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Welcome to, rationally speaking, the podcast, where we explore the borderlands between reason and nonsense. I'm your host, Julia Gillard, and my guest today is Eric Schultz Gabal. Eric is a philosopher at the University of California, Riverside. He's the author of several books and also writes the excellent blog, The Splintered Mind. Eric, welcome back to the show.
Thanks for having me again, Julia. Yeah, Eric was on the show, I guess, about a year ago now talking about crazy criticism. You are, I hope, still as crazy as ever.
Yeah, maybe even getting crazier. I mean, I've been reading your blog, so the answer I know is.
Yeah, yeah, I. I wanted to have you back on the show because I have this kind of cluster of related burning questions for you that have accumulated in the last year of reading your stuff that are kind of loosely related on themes of like the right way to think about weird or counterintuitive ideas and whether we can know our own minds and some things like that. So, yeah, we have a lot to talk about. Why don't we work backwards by starting with a blog post you wrote just recently that really caught my attention.
It was called Truth Dare and Wonder. And it you were describing these three different styles of thinking or philosophizing. I guess your post was was about the context of academic philosophy, but it really could apply to anyone who's sort of thinking and discussing big picture ideas. Before I ask my questions, why don't you just explain what truth Darren Wunder represent?
Right. So the truth or dare idea I got from another blog, which I hope you noticed, a fairly new blog called View from the Owl's Roost, where the bloggers there put out the idea that some philosophers are truth philosophers and some are Dair philosophers.
And the idea is that Dare philosophers like to go after positions that might be extreme or exciting or interesting, but they don't really believe them, but they argue for them and they kind of dare you to show how they're wrong.
Well, it's an example of a dare I like a view a dear philosopher would espouse. Right.
So. For example, you might think it's pants is this view that all of the matter in the universe is conscious right now, there are probably some people who genuinely believe that, but you could imagine someone taking that for dear, like reasons like here's an argument for that.
I know this conclusion seems absurd, but here's the argument. And I kind of dare you to prove me wrong and you might put that far without really believing it in your heart. But that still could be an interesting way of doing philosophy. You take this position that people find highly unintuitive or something like that.
And then and then you argue for it and you defend it. Great. So that would be Dair style philosophy and then Truesdell philosophy, which is what they were kind of maybe more in favor of.
Yeah, I can I can help in the naming scheme then, like the leanings of the person who named them.
You you're aiming to you're aiming at the truth and you don't want to espouse positions that you are, you don't sincerely believe, are you optimizing for daring ness under the constraints of things you think are true or only optimizing for truth and not caring at all about how interesting the claim is?
You know, when I pushed one of the blog post authors on this point a little bit, she seemed to be suggesting that she was especially attracted to to true positions that were surprising. But I think you could also just be a truth like philosopher who sees your job as showing the boring thing to be true. Like, you know, in fact, not all of the matter in the universe is conscious.
Right. Right, right.
Definitely. If you got derelict philosophers out there, then you probably want some people fighting back, even though the the response position isn't so daring. Got it.
So you're sort of you're motivated to argue the true things, especially if you think people are, you know, missing those points. And even if the true position on that issue is not interesting.
Right. And a lot of what philosophers do is argue for boring, true things. Got it. So I mean that, right, I assume ultimately the goal is truth, and then the question is just in the present moment, like, what do people think on the margin we need more or less of in our collective search for truth? Right, you might think actually, that's probably that the longer thread that we get to in a minute before we go there.
Why don't you talk about wonder?
Yeah. So part of my reaction to this was feeling like people might think of me as a dare philosopher because I espouse sometimes pretty wild seeming positions or are you for them? But it didn't seem quite the right characterization of how I see what I do.
I'm really drawn to the capacity of philosophy to call into doubt things that we normally take for granted. Things that might seem crazy to our common sense, right, so it's not I mean, the way the Dair style philosophy works is kind of almost like a game rather than something sincere. But, you know, I feel this kind of sincere sense of wonder when philosophy does the job or when psychology or any other academic discipline does the job of kind of pulling the rug out from under me and causing me to question my background assumptions about myself and about the world.
Is it wonder in the sense of the emotion of all, or is it wonder in the meaning, in the sense of I wonder whether this could be true? I think they're related in my mind. So, I mean, there are certainly things you can wonder whether they're true without feeling about it.
Right. But the but the kinds of things that I that philosophy gets at where you wonder, I think there for me at least, there's this kind of awesomeness of the of being able to wonder about that.
Right. So one of the things that I've been arguing recently is that if we take views, standard materialist views of consciousness seriously, most of them would seem to have the implication that the United States, considered as a group entity, is literally phenomenally conscious. Right.
You know, and that's the thing that's not I believe it's true, but I think maybe actually it might be true. Yes.
And wondering whether it might actually be true then also produces in me this kind of sense, this or in a way, how interesting and impenetrable the universe is in a way.
And that's part of what really excites me about philosophy. Interesting.
That's very different than the kind of Dair game that you might think someone is like, oh, I play this game. We're taking this extreme position and, you know, knock me down if you can.
Right. You know what I mean? I do. I very much know what you mean. I can think of several people who I think fit that description. OK, my central question, reading this taxonomy, and it's a great taxonomy, my central question was. Why isn't wonder just strictly better than both truth and dare, because here's the case, the case for why wonder is better than truth is that even if your only goal is truth and you don't really care at all about sort of playing the game or being provocative or getting attention or something like that, your only goal is truth.
Still, to that end, you should be reaching for interesting and provocative new hypotheses and wondering about them, because, you know, some of those are going to turn out to be true in some form, assuming that we don't already know all of the true things already, which I don't don't think philosophers believe we do. You need to wonder about things to get like a complete and as accurate as possible worldview. In the end, the case for why wonder is better than Dair is like, well, you know, yes, it is good to advance interesting and provocative new hypotheses.
But Darran, one or both do that. And the only difference that I can see is that there is overstating their belief in those hypotheses, just sort of for the sake of like play or or maybe for the sake of, like, provoking more discussion than they otherwise would provoke if they just like, stated their true epistemic confidence level, which is like this probably isn't true, but I think it's worth considering. So it just seems to me like wondering Darah both doing this one good thing.
But then Dair has this additional bad thing, which is like muddying the epistemic waters by being deceptive, deceptive about their what they actually believe.
I guess partly I think about this at a group level and partly I think about our incapacity to be neutral in the hypotheses that we're attracted to has.
And so. Well, think about it this way.
If everyone was a wonder style philosophy, then they wouldn't be so interested in defending the boring common sense position that probably does need to be defended. They wouldn't invest as much of their heart in it.
And, you know, we'd be attracted to certain philosophers, more than certain others, a certain types of positions, more than certain others. And I don't think, you know, if everyone were similar in their biases and attractions as philosophers or as members of the intellectual community, then you'd end up with a narrower range of things that people do.
And you wouldn't have that lovely competitive chaos of so many different styles of voice that I think ultimately is is what you want, so that the first part of what you said sounded like maybe a compelling case for why we need truth in addition to wonder, and that, like the Wonder philosophers, there might be a bunch of points that need to be made, but they're not sort of interesting or exciting enough to appeal to a wonder philosopher to speculate about. And so that's why we need the truth philosophers.
And that is somewhat compelling. But I didn't hear anything in there that that justifies the existence of the Dair philosophers.
Yeah, the dear philosopher might still go after some things that even the wonder philosopher would stay away from, things that should be gone after everything that shouldn't be after.
Maybe they should be gone after.
Maybe you need someone out there who is really saying things that are hard to even take seriously as initial things you might wonder about is the idea that some fraction are going to be true or that there's some benefit.
We get to our thinking. Even if none of those completely out there ideas are true, there's some benefit we get to our thinking from considering them or arguing with them anyway.
Actually, I think both of those. Right, some fraction of them may turn out to be true. But then also I think that it's a part of the value of philosophy and the intellectual enterprise of academia on Earth, that there are people out there who are. Who are embracing things that and defending things for all kinds of reasons, and that might seem absurd and not even worth defending, as long as they're not the majority of people, I don't know.
I guess I'm inclined to want to celebrate the diversity of motives and the diversity of positions that philosophers embrace.
OK, here's my hesitation. I like to separate to distinguish between my inside view and my outside view. So there might be some issues like let's say I it seems to me that sexism is true. When I look around the world and I think about things, I'm like, oh, it really does seem like based on my understanding of consciousness and how that works, it seems like everything actually is conscious. But also I'm sort of a reasonable person, and I know that most smart, thoughtful people who have thought about this think sexism is wrong.
And so if you asked me to bet on, like, OK, Julia, you know, 50 years from now, you've really thought about this hard. You've talked to as many, you know, people arguing against sexism as you can and you've thought about their arguments and so on. What do you think you will end up believing? I might say like, yeah, probably my confidence and pantheism will end up being reduced. But my and that's my outside view, that it's like less likely to be true than other theories.
But my current like based on what I've currently considered, it sure seems true. And so I think it's valuable to it's definitely valuable for people to share their inside views because we want we don't like if everyone just relied on their outside view, we wouldn't have any diversity of opinion. And it would just be like, you know, maybe there's one thing that's like 60 percent likely to be true, but everyone just says that that's what they believe because it's the dominant thing and everything else is lower credence than that.
And then we never find out if it was wrong. So it's good to share the inside views. But when we have people there, philosophers claiming to have strong confidence in things that they don't really have, strong, confident, then that that messes up our attempts to see what the average consensus actually is and what the outside view, like the outside view matters to it, like determines sort of what I would bet on. It determines how much time and effort I'm going to spend trying to understand something.
If, like a lot of smart, sincere people seem to sincerely believe it, that, you know, I'm willing to invest more time thinking about it.
It just feels. It just feels bad for the epistemic health of a community. Hmm, yeah, I don't know. I mean, I have some sympathy with that. But also, I remember just a little anecdote from when I started my graduate program in my program in Berkeley in 1991.
And I I met someone who was interviewing me, was maybe going to be my landlord. And he said, oh, you're a philosophy student. Are you one of those people who thinks that you've discovered the truth about things and you're in philosophy to tell everyone was right?
I feel like the correct answer to that. Or do you see it more as like this chess game with moves and countermoves is fascinating and interesting and who knows where the truth is? But you're excited by the moves. And I thought that's a really interesting question. And at the time, I answered in the second way, maybe partly because I knew that's the answer.
Right. Right. And you need you need an apartment. The bear is tough because I don't think any of you a philosophy you want if you have a studio for less than two thousand dollars.
So I guess my thought is that there's a mix of vices and virtues in any of these different kinds of ways that you could enter philosophy.
Do you think there's any bad way to be a philosopher like, uh.
Yeah, probably. But but not truth. Dare wonder. Not OK. Broad level of description. You know, we might want to tweak around the ratio of them. Right. Philosophy was almost all Dair philosophers. Right. And would probably be a problem.
But the fact that there are philosophers out there who see it as a game of chess moves and are fascinated by the chess moving ness of it. And that I don't know. I think that they have a different complement of virtues and vices epistemically than I do as a kind of wonder, more wonder oriented philosopher and that truth oriented philosophers do.
So could you at least agree that Dair philosophers would have to declare somewhere on their website or KVI that they consider themselves the philosophers so that we know to like take their claims with a grain of salt in forming our picture of what the field actually believes? And I'm not going to get to you on that one.
Yeah, I would I would go out and find out, like on the margin what we need more or less of, like like let's say we could change the ratios of these three types of philosophers by then. We probably could change the ratio by changing what we reward or punish, you know, socially in the sense of like what kinds of claims or papers do we give attention and admiration to? And then also just like what people tend to get published in the top journals, that kind of thing.
So if we could use those levers to change the ratios, in what direction would you change them?
Well, since I'm sympathetic with wonder, I guess I'm inclined to think we need more wonder philosophers and that might be a bias on my part.
I do see I think that there are challenges that wonderful US wonder oriented philosophers have in publishing because it's a little hard to publish something that says, well, you know, we should have a five percent credence that this bizarre sounding thing is true.
Right. It's a little easier to say. Here is the compelling argument. This is true, right? Yeah.
And you can do that as a truth philosopher and as a philosopher. You can do that in this kind of insincere way.
But if you're being sincere and you're invested in, wow, you know, why shouldn't we explore this bizarre seeming possibility where we maybe only deserve a minority credence? There isn't a lot of room for that, the discipline as it stands. So I'd like to see and I can understand why journalists aren't super excited by those kinds of papers, but, um, but I feel like it would be nice to have more room for that.
One of the fun things about being a blogger is that you can kind of just go out on a limb a little bit more.
I was thinking that actually, as I read your post, that that blog seemed like the most natural home for the Wonder style philosophy.
Yeah, I think that might be partly why I'm attracted to blogging at all. Makes sense now.
I hope it doesn't make too much sense, though.
So it's sort of related question I wanted to ask you, like related in the sense of how do we how should we interpret or react to bold and weird claims? Yet another post a little earlier that was really interesting in which you argued against reading weird philosophy charitably. And there's a lot hanging on the meaning of like, what does it mean to read something charitably? Can you summarize that case? Yeah, so. When we read, say, older philosophy or philosophy from a different cultural tradition, I think there's this tendency to want to read the the philosophy, especially through like the philosopher as saying things that are true.
Yeah. Which, of course, means kind of true by our life or at least or at least right.
Or at least reasonable or plausible by our lights. And so.
You might think that one thing that would come from that is that if there are, say, four different ballpark plausible interpretations of an author from a different tradition or, you know, much earlier in our tradition and our Western tradition, then you might have a tendency to want to choose the one that's closest to our current contemporary view.
Right. Just feeling like what you're doing is trying to interpret them reasonably, like to assume they're being reasonable, but but of course, reasonable has a definition that you an implicit definition for you based on your framework.
Right. So if you want your reading dickered or can't or drawings or, you know, whoever you want to kind of you like them and you want to say, oh, they're saying true, reasonable things. And so you turn them.
And the principle of charity in interpretation is the idea that you you attribute to people that you're interpreting mostly true or at least plausible attitudes. Right.
So you interpret Descartes charitably, then you say, well, he didn't really mean this strange seeming thing.
Right. So it would be like reading your claim about the United States conditional on materialism, the United States being conscious and reading that and going, well, I know Eric's a very reasonable guy and I like him. He probably meant it. It behaves as if it is conscious. He didn't mean it. Literally conscious, right?
Right, exactly. Because that would be crazy. Right, exactly.
So we we take these things that we we take views that we think of as being, you know, crazy views. And we say, well, the philosopher couldn't really have meant that. So let's interpret them more charitably, more reasonably, and then risks preventing us from seeing how different the philosophers view might really be.
So we kind of tame the philosopher, translate into modern terms. And then and then we actually lose an important part of the value. I think, of reading cross culturally and reading the history of philosophy is that you get exposed to views that are radically different from your own.
You get a sense of what things that you might perceive as crazy people actually thought or maybe literally true in other cultures or other times.
So if you're overly charitable, then you lose the very I think the very value or one of the important values you can get from from reading broadly in philosophy.
Oh, it sounds now at least like like you're arguing against reading charitably just because it messes up your picture of sort of history and sociology of views. But I thought that I thought the case was like, no, you will actually end up with a less truthful, less accurate model of the world if you read people charitably, because sometimes people will say things that seem so crazy to you that you assume that can possibly be literally what they mean. But in fact, that is what they mean.
And it is actually true in some important way. And you would miss that if you read it, quote unquote, charitably.
Yes, I do think that so. I mean, there are several things that you lose when you read to charitably, I think.
And one of those is the opportunity to interpret them correctly. Right, by over assimilating them to our current views. Another is the opportunity to perhaps discover a truth that was available to someone at a different time and culture that isn't available to you or seems crazy to you now in your current time and culture.
And still another thing, a third thing is the opportunity to even if it's not true and even if it's not the author's actual view to stretch your mind by contemplating something that's really bizarre, seeming it out there.
Yeah. One reason this post struck me is that I am frequently an advocate of this practice called Steele Manning, which is a play on the idea of straw manning or instrumenting. You're like caricaturing someone's view in a way that's like dumb and easy to knock down. And then you knock it down. And still Manning is you try to construct a stronger and more reasonable version of what they're well, sorry and more reasonable is actually I'm going too far there, but just like a stronger version of what they actually literally said.
And then you consider that very charitable. Yeah. And and I so they can exact a sort of classic example of still Manning might be if someone says, you know, men are like X and women are like Y, you could just respond to what they literally said and be like, oh, well, you know, it's not true that all men are like X, because here's one counterexample of a man who's not like X and then just sort of like be done with B, like, well, I refuted them, but you could think like, well, they're a reasonable person.
Maybe they meant that, like, men in general are more on average like X and women are more like Y, and it's not so easy to refute that with a single counterexample. And you have to actually think about, well, how would I tell whether, you know, the averages are different? How would the world look differently? And that's sort of a more interesting thing to do than just like find one easy counterexample and then decide you're done with it.
I guess I'm wondering if there is a way. The thing that still Manning, I think is contributing is one of the things is it prevents you from just well, A, it prevents you from accidentally straw manning them. So it's like a corrective for sort of our tendency to sometimes strawman people unconsciously. And then be like sometimes often people are not perfect arguers and they might, you know, say things that aren't quite what they mean or like forget like neglect to mention a premise that's important to their argument or something like that.
And if your goal is to get at the truth instead of just to win the argument and refute them, then you want to try to do some of that work for them if they haven't done that fully themselves. So I guess I'm wondering if there's a way, if you agree that's a good goal. If you think there's a way to get get the goods of what's your meaning as opposed to is trying to contribute without the potential harms of that you talked about in your warning about charitable reading.
Hmm. Yeah. I mean, I like the idea still Manning, and that is probably an excellent thing to do sometimes. But here's another kind of just running with a metaphor. What if you befriend instead of attack the straw man?
I really like your your tendency of taking a dichotomy and just making it a dichotomy like I feel for you in your work. Yeah, well, usually things aren't as simple as one and two, but three is exactly the right number.
Things are always a simple two three. No. OK, what is it look like to befriend a strawman.
Right. So I don't know if this is such a great idea with the example you started with, but but just to run with that. Right.
So another thing you could do is say, well, so the person said something that you might on the face of an is saying all men are like X, right.
So the Steelman view is to say, well, they just mean like a lot of men are like X or men on average, more like X than women are. Right.
But another thing you could do, and this is what I would be thinking of, is maybe befriending the straw man is thinking, well, is there any way that I could think more plausibly about the possibility that all men are x rayed?
So I guess just one example. I don't know why this comes to mind. Right. But when I was an undergraduate, one of my friends is taking women's studies class. And he was very upset because the women's studies professor said all men are attracted to rape.
And he's like, I don't think that I am right. I really don't think that. And so sorry. Go on right now.
He could have Steelman's what she said. Right. But but one possibility is that she really meant that literally, and that what she wanted him to do was really serious, much more seriously consider the possibility that literally all men are attracted to rape.
So that would be more like dancing with the straw man, right? I mean, this takes us back kind of to the Deira philosophy thing where, like, it just feels in some way like defecting on a sort of implicit epistemic contract that we have with each other where like, yes, maybe he's going to take her claim. He's going to give more consideration to her claim because she framed it in this bold, provocative way. But why couldn't she just have said, like on the margin, more men should consider whether they are attracted to rape and not all of them are, but like more of them are than they think or something like that's a.
If that's actually what she meant, you know.
Yeah, so I wasn't it's not firsthand to know what she really meant, but I, I could imagine someone sincerely thinking and maybe, you know, this is not an area I'm expert in.
But, you know, if we want to play or maybe I shouldn't say play if we want to entertain bold, crazy seeming extreme seeming views. Right. And maybe you're attracted to certain essentialist views and certain psychodynamic views, maybe from the Freudian tradition.
Right. You can see how it kind of essentialist Freudian feminist. Right, might literally think there's some unconscious thing that all men share. That we will not see unless we take that claim at face value. Now, I'm not inclined to think that's true, but I think it could be interesting to really consider whether it might be true. Right.
And the very one that instead of one, allow your little bit of wonder credence on that.
Right. Instead of instantly still manning it or man attacking.
Right. OK, OK, that was a reasonable one more kind of tangential but interesting point about the crazy claims topic. So you're writing or preparing to write a book called How to Be a Crazy Philosopher?
Yeah, I've been rethinking the time. OK, so that's what I wanted to ask about. In fact, I saw I guess you just reposted on your blog that you had gotten some pushback on the using the word crazy in the title on the grounds that it was ablest, i.e. it was sort of stigmatizing or or like it was offensive to people with mental illness. Right. And. So I've I've seen and been part of a bunch of discussions of this general shape that like a certain word or practice that hadn't, you know, that isn't generally considered to be offensive in, you know, normal American society is, in fact offensive in that we should stop using it.
Sometimes it's the word crazy. Sometimes it's the word stupid. Sometimes it's practiced like wearing, you know, a sombrero for a party or Halloween or, you know, an American making tacos if they're don't have Mexican heritage or something like that. And I often find these discussions pretty frustrating, but I also have a policy of at least trying to consider these arguments, because I suspect that, like the current set of things that I think are offensive is probably not the complete set that I would find offensive if I genuinely thought about all the arguments and made my best judgment.
Like, I don't think I, I don't think my views are currently complete incorrect. So I do try to consider them. But I often still, upon reflection, think like, no, that's just not a reasonable case for why this word is offensive. I don't like I just don't agree after. And I've thought about it and I'm wondering what you and that seemed to be kind of your take, at least when I last read your blog. Maybe your thinking has evolved that you just weren't quite persuaded that this usage of the word crazy was offensive.
But I'm wondering, what do you think our policy should be like? Should our policy be genuinely think about it? And if you don't agree with them to say, I'm sorry, I respectfully disagree, I'm going to keep using this word or should the policy be? Well, I still don't see why it's offensive. But like, if you say it is, I'll stop using it. Or should it be like I'll only stop using it if you seem to be objecting in good faith as opposed to just, I don't know, a troll or something.
What do you think?
I think you don't want to be wholly deferential. Right, because some people probably go too far in saying that things are offensive.
Right. Is probably OK to make tacos, for example.
And I don't have Mexican heritage, but kind of at the margins. To use the phrase you were using earlier, one might want to shift a little bit toward difference. So when I look at my own use of the word crazy, I don't feel like I'm using it in a way that should be offensive. But there are several people who seem to think that it's offensive in that way. And I guess I feel concerned enough that I might be wrong and that they might be right, that I've decided that maybe I shouldn't highlight my usage of it.
I still will use it and can use it.
I'm kind of on the hook for it with some of my earlier stuff, and I'm not quite ready to abandon it entirely, but maybe I shouldn't put it in my book title. That's kind of where I am right now.
So it still sounds like it's still ultimately comes down to wanting to be guided by the BI, whether the thing is actually offensive. And I know we're not quite defining offensive, but that's too long conversation. But still, it's supposed to be guided by whether it is, in fact, offensive or not guided by like doing the thing that a minority tells you to do and a minority literally in the sense of like, you know, a minority opinion. And you're just saying, like, you suggest deference because you think that there are going to be cases where you're outside, you're inside.
You says they're wrong about defensiveness, but you're outside. Otherwise there's a decent chance they're right.
Yeah, got it. Yeah, I think that's about right.
I kind of like that actually because yeah. I also had the sense that some kind of benefit of the doubt was correct. But I'm uncomfortable with like the moral hazard caused by saying, well, even if I don't agree, I'll give the benefit of the doubt because I do. My intuition is that that encourages people to object about things or to be offended by things they otherwise wouldn't have been offended by. And if you sort of know that, that's the way to get people to change, right?
Yeah, yeah, I agree with that. So you don't want to be too deferential, partly because of that hazard you're talking about.
If you want to be blindly or commit to being deferential at the same time, a certain amount of outside deference, maybe, especially if you're hearing it from several people and people whose opinion you respect for other reasons.
Yeah. I like that. Cool. OK, I don't have a good Segway into this next topic, but it's interesting and important. We should talk about it anyway. That's my Segway again. So some of your especially interesting blog posts and articles and books as well have been about the challenge of self-knowledge, of having introspective access to your own properties as a person and even to what you are thinking or feeling or experiencing in your mind at that very moment that that accessing those things is much harder or less reliable than we tend to think it is.
And something I you actually did this over 10 years ago, but I only just recently discovered you've done it's really cool with this collaborative project with I think he was a psychologist, not a philosopher named Russ Russell Hurlbut. Yes. Who disagreed with you and thinks that. No, in fact, we can have reliable access to our our you know, what we're thinking and feeling. And you guys wrote this book together in which you it was almost like an adversarial collaboration where you were trying to, like, figure out why.
Well, I won't I won't explain your methodology. I'll ask you to do that. But to start off, I'm just curious. Yeah. To hear the basic case for why you think introspection is not reliable and why other people disagree with you. Right?
Yeah. That book was a lot of fun to be happy to talk about is a really interesting experience and exercise. So cool.
I wish there were more books like that. Yeah.
And and so I want to answer the main question that you asked at the end. Right. But yes.
But yeah, the book was just the idea methodologically of getting together with someone who's who has a very different view from your own and not just doing pro con rebuttal response, like a couple of conversational turns, but like actually writing something collaboratively together with hundreds of conversational turns.
When you're editing the other person's words and they're editing your words and you're really trying to get at the truth of their opinion. I was just really interesting and extremely rare.
I'm swooning here. Yeah. And Russ was a wonderful collaborator for this. He's very he's very non defensive in certain ways, very straight and out there. That was awesome.
But and we can talk more about that if you want. But I also want to answer the question about why I think that people have poor self-knowledge. Yeah. So I guess I partly got into this because there is this long philosophical tradition of thinking that people have perfect self-knowledge if their own stream of conscious experience as it's occurring within them, varies.
So the kind of classic example of this, and this is often associated with Descartes and the tradition that comes after him is, you know, if you if you think if you're feeling intense pain and you think, you know, am I in pain, it seems kind of impossible that you could be wrong about whether you're in pain or not.
Right? I mean, how could you be wrong about that?
Right. Like, you could be wrong about whether someone stopping you, like maybe you're delusional and you just think you're being stabbed. But if. If the pain is there in your mind anyway, then your pain, whether or not you're right about right or like if you're a brain in a VAT right, then you might be wrong.
There's no external world out there at all. But at least you're right that you're right. And these visual experiences as though there's an external world, you can't be wrong about that. Right. Like, I'm having this visual experience of red right in the middle of my visual field. How can I possibly be wrong about that? Right. So that kind of intuitive appeal and I think it's often exactly the cases of canonical intense pain and canonical red as experienced in the fluvial center of the field.
Those are the two philosophers. Favorite examples, not accidentally, I think, kind of invite this idea that philosophers have found attractive to people maybe can't be.
Wrong, they're infallible about their own stream of conscious experience as it's going on through them.
And in the 20th century, psychologists had done a good job of bringing bringing up doubts about our knowledge of our our attitudes, especially our unconscious attitudes like Freud. Right. And also the causes of our behavioral choices like you see with people like Nisbett and Wilson. But psychologists had not really, I thought, nailed down the case that we could be radically wrong about our own stream of currently ongoing conscious experiences. And I thought maybe we could, and I was partly led to thinking that maybe we could because I was at the time I was starting to think about this, I was a graduate student in philosophy, but I was working.
And Alison Gopnik, laboratory in Developmental Psychology. Oh, and John Flavel, this is a Berkeley.
And John Flavel was down at Stanford and I'd been undergrad at Stanford and Gopnik and flammable thought that children about three or four years old could just make these whopping mistakes about their own, their own experiences, their own attitudes, their own stream of conscious experience, especially in Flavel. And it struck me at the time as odd that I thought Flavel made a good case. And we could talk about the case if you want. But the summary version is I thought Flavel had made a good case of four year olds could be radically mistaken about their stream of experience.
And it's a little hard to reconcile that with the idea that maybe adults would be completely infallible.
Right. And he wasn't just making the case that they can be wrong in because they're bad at communicating like they might say. I'm angry, but they don't really even understand what the word angry means. And they're just feeling excited or something.
Right. It's not that in the Flavel.
So just like for one example, he does this in so many different ways, you can just tell that he's trying to, like, help them find the right answers and they're just failing over and over again.
Like one example is in one experiment, he's got, I think, their four year olds and he says, I'm going to ring a bell and he's got a library bell under the desk.
And then he waits five seconds and he rings it. And then he says, I'm going to ring the bell again and they wait five seconds and then he rings it and he says, I'm going to ring the bell again.
And then he waits 10 seconds without ringing it. Mm hmm. Then he says, Are you thinking about anything?
Right. A lot of the children will say no.
Are you are you thinking about a bell? Oh, sure. Say no, I'm not thinking about a bell. It's great.
It's like but like, of course, they come to me thinking about the bell. Right. And the way he describes it, if I'm recalling correctly, I hope this isn't just my imagination.
Right. Playing tricks on me, but the way he describes it like or at least how I picture it is the children are like, oh, they're like shaking, waiting for this bell to be wrong. Right. Because this is such a weird thing that this adult is doing. Right. Right.
How could they not be thinking about this? And but can we be confident that they're not just saying, like, what they think he wants to hear? Or I mean, this is probably a challenge and in trying to perceive people's internal experiences anyway, that we can only get at them through self report. Yeah, but it seems like it might be a bigger problem with children than adults.
Yeah, that's true. And I don't think that experiment is decisive by itself. And maybe the entire body of work of Flavel is not is not decisive, but to me is suggestive at least. And that's part of what inspired me to think about the adult case, too. And once I started thinking about the adult case, I felt like I did see evidence that we are often quite badly mistaken about our own stream of conscious experience, even as it's ongoing and the philosopher's tendency to focus on fluvial presentation of color in the middle of the visual field and an intense Canacol pain there, like making it easy for themselves.
They're choosing the cheesiest cases.
So if you just think about something like one of the one of the things I invite readers to do when I'm making the case for this is form a visual image of their house and their apartment as viewed from the street.
So, yeah, and most people say that they can form these images. Not everybody does, but most people say they can.
And then think about like, how stable is it? Is it fully colored? Is it fully colored all the way into the periphery before you think to assign color to it?
Right. Is it kind of flat and two dimensional like a picture would be, or does it have more depth to it?
Is it like an image and after image? Where is it located in space? Right.
So actually, when I've interviewed people about their imagery, some people say similarly to their own surprise, I had this visual image and it seemed like the image was kind of located in front of my forehead.
I know this doesn't make any sense.
They'll sometimes say, right, because you'd think the image would be in your head. If it's anywhere. Some people will say, yeah, I have a visual image. It's not like that image is anywhere. And some people will say, well, it seems like it in my head.
And then a substantial minority will say, I know this sounds weird, but it seemed to me like the image was in front of my forehead.
I can totally I get that. I think that makes sense to me intuitively. Right. But yeah.
All right. So there are these all these interesting questions about what it's like to experience imagery that I think are not obvious.
And you could imagine people going pretty wrong about these about some pretty basic structural features of the imagery, you know, in the in the 70s was part of our culture, our our our culture in the US.
I think sometimes I think that memories tended to be black and white. Key was at the time. Right. If you think about images, memory images. Right.
I think most people now would not be inclined to think the memory images tended to be black and white.
No, but back when the media, the most kind of salient media were often black and white, people did maybe seem to think that their images and their dreams.
Did people think back then that the memories of people back before any media existed at all were black and white? Or is it just memories were in color and then suddenly we had black and white TV and then memories went black and white.
And now so I haven't this is actually a personal memory of my own. And I've seen some evidence from it in popular culture, especially in Paul Simon's song. Kodachrome is a nice example of this, but I haven't found systematic discussions of memory being black and white in, say, the psychological literature or in in journalism.
So it's a little hard to evaluate carefully what people were thinking for the dream case. There is there was actually a literature that's very interesting about where people in the 50s in the United States in the forties thought that dreams just generally were black and white. And I don't think that they thought this was just dreams in the United States as influenced by media. I think they just thought dreams are a black. White kind of thing. Wow. Yeah, most people thought detonating in the 1950s and it's related to the presence of media in the culture.
So if you look pre 20th century, very few people will say that dreams are black and white. If you look twenty first century, very people, people will say the dreams are black and white. And you look at the arc of it, it relates to the dominance of black and white film media and the culture. And we've got some cross-cultural evidence for this. So this guy, Hongchang Byng, e-mailed me and said we should try this in China because this is about the year 2000.
You said, well, you know, in rural China, most people are exposed to black and white media. Their TVs are black and white, whereas in urban China, most people, especially the wealthier people, are exposed to mostly color media. So we asked about their dreams and we found rural people in China in the early 2000s tended to say that their dreams were black and white and an urban. People tended to say their dreams were colored. That is weird, I.
Do you think that any of this problem, just generally of people misreporting their internal states could be chalked up to misremembering? Like if you could somehow ask people right at the moment they're having the dream, they would report like, yes, I'm dreaming in color. But then if you ask them like 15 minutes later or something, there's this revising process that happens. And so they remember it having been black and white. But that's not an issue of like.
I mean, it is it's an issue of like it counts as people being bad at reporting what their recent internal states were. So in that sense, you would be right, but it wouldn't quite violate this sort of almost self-evident notion that people have. You can't be mistaken about feeling a thing or anything.
I think that is possible with the dream case. And actually, once once REM sleep was discovered and people decided to to ask about coloration of dreams by using REM awakening instead of using retrospective report or kind of, you know, more distantly retrospective report, the rates of color dream reporting went way up. But that was also, unfortunately for my hypothesis, for testing my hypothesis. That was also during the 60s during which the film media were undergoing quick change in their coloration.
So it's a little hard to know whether the change is due to the the change in the Awakening method or the or the cultural change. But for imagery, you're reporting it as it's ongoing.
Right. Or emotions. Actually, I'm thinking of like someone yelling, I'm not angry. Like, that's definitely yes. That's the classic example.
Right. And I certainly experienced that. I think, for example, I think my wife reads my face better than I introspect my own emotional state. Right.
So if my wife thinks I'm angry, you better evidence of you. I am angry, inclined to deny it.
So even just the basic label of are you angry or not?
Can be hard. But then when you start to think about, OK, well, you know what an emotional experience is. It's not just a label, but it's like some people think an emotional experience is a state of bodily arousal. Right. And exactly what type of bodily arousal would be associated with anger?
And is it the same in every case of anger? And to what extent is involved kind of cognitive stuff versus more literally visceral stuff? I mean, what is it like to be angry? Right. So first layer, we don't even know very well whether we are.
But secondly or even harder is like what is the what is the phenomenology of anger?
So I'm also curious about whether about the conscious versus unconscious question with anger or with anything you're experiencing, like is the claim that people can be wrong about what they're experiencing at that moment? Does that boil down into people experience things unconsciously in addition to consciously and though you are not aware of all the things you're experiencing because some things are unconscious or because that that seems like pretty?
I mean, I'm probably going to I'm like walking into a trap here, but that seems obviously to ensure charitable work because, like, couldn't you just explain that, you know, I'm not angry person yelling that by saying he's experiencing anger unconsciously, or are you actually claiming he is consciously experiencing anger and is wrong, that he is not consciously experiencing anger?
I'm inclined to say the latter, huh? To I don't know what an unconscious experience is.
I kind of would use the word experience and consciousness and stream of experience and phenomenology all kind of synonymously to refer to what it's like. I do think one can probably maybe have unconscious emotional states, but that's not the kind of case I'm thinking of. Right. Right. I'm thinking of there is a there is a phenomenological aspect of your experience that's emotional that's going on with you right now. And it's not just kind of unconscious the way early visual processing might be unconscious.
It's in there. It's in there. In your phenomenology. In your experience. But you're just you're wrong about it. Why not? Why couldn't that be the case?
It seems to be plausible that it's the case.
When I think about harder cases like my emotional experience right now, I'm not in an intense emotional experience right now. So it's not, like, totally vivid to me. What my experience is. It's not totally obvious to me what aspects of my phenomenology, what's going on with me right now, viscerally, emotionally. I mean, I can make some guesses, but it seems like it could be wrong in the same way.
It seems plausible to me that I could be wrong about the features of my visual imagery as I'm thinking about my street as viewed from the house in our stream of experience. I think it's plausible to suppose that a shooting experience is changes quickly and is complex and our our linguistic and conceptual categories for thinking about it, the tools that we have to think about it. They're really designed for thinking about the outside world and not for introspection. And so they they struggle to we have struggled to get our minds around this swith QAI changeable, disjointed, mass of experience.
That's that we have.
And when I look at like, say, this coffee cup in my hand, I can tell you all kinds of things about its features, its structure. And when I introspect my own emotional state or my own imagery state.
Right. I can't tell you with nearly the same amount of certainty about as features. Right. So this kind of Cartesian picture that we know first and most certainly is our own experience and what we know and secondarily and much less certainly is the outside world in my view. That's kind of that's exactly backwards, right.
When I know kind of best is like the ordinary things about middle sized objects around me and this experience that I have, I don't know that nearly as well.
And to the extent I do know it, it's often because I reach inferences about it based on my knowledge of the social world and the physical world around.
Is a way to resolve the seeming paradox that people can be wrong about what they're consciously experiencing is the way to resolve that, the modular mind that like there's not one single unified consciousness and, you know, sort of like as is highlighted very starkly in cases of patients with damage to their corpus callosum, where, you know, one hemisphere of their brain is like aware of some information that was shown to one eye and the other hemisphere is aware of other information and they aren't like communicating.
Could something like that be happening where like part of your brain is experiencing the anger in this other part of your brain that consciously reporting is not even aware of it?
So maybe but I'm almost inclined to go the opposite direction from that, but in a way that kind of comes around maybe full circle to a similar conclusion.
I call this the crazy spaghetti view of introspection. Of course you do.
So instead of thinking of the mind is modular, I mean, I think there's something to the idea of modularity, you know, especially for early sensory input processes. But instead, I think we've got this massive, chaotic tangle of processes going on in our mind that interact to interfere with each other and cooperate and in this incredibly complex way, instead of like these tight knit modules that then feed into a center or something like that. Right. Right.
Instead, think of it as this chaotic tangle of crazy spaghetti. Right.
And then somehow out of this chaotic tangle comes some kind of self-support. Right. But what's driving that self-support is this is a whole mix of processes, including your presuppositions about what must be the case, including, you know, just your your ordinary linguistic habits, including all kinds of stuff that only want some part of which is some kind of sensitivity to what the experience itself is that you're reporting.
Yeah, that's actually pretty plausible. Or that that feels like a type of brain that could exist and that would produce the kinds of phenomena that you've been pointing out.
Yeah, that's an assessment of you.
So I've got to I've got a little picture of the crazy spaghetti model and in one of my papers, which is basically just a giant tangle, here's my picture of my that I just scribble on the paper, I guess.
Last question about this before we wrap up. Did your collaboration with Russ change either of your minds?
Yeah, that's something that's a little hard to know right now, because this certainly was my skepticism, self-knowledge. Here's one thing I think is true. I think that before I collaborated with Russ, I was on the cusp of going to a very extreme version of skepticism about self-knowledge.
And I still have what some people might see as kind of an extreme.
Level of doubt, but I think Russ helped me pull back from going too far to the extreme on that, and I guess I do think that we we can have self knowledge through introspection and and that there are ways to do it, like including Robert's preferred way that they probably do get us a certain amount of knowledge.
I think maybe more than I would have thought. So your position now would be introspection is much less reliable than many people think, but it's also more reliable than I previously thought. Yeah, I think, like, there are ways to do it. Yeah, I think he did help me moderate. I think he did probably moderate my views somewhat as a result of collaboration with him. Yeah.
Was that because he pointed out approaches to introspection that you hadn't been considering that you agreed were more reliable, or was it that he convinced you that the approaches you had thought were very unreliable were actually somewhat more reliable?
I think it was something more like, you know, what we did the way we did this book was we actually interviewed. We gave this person a beeper, Melanie, and we interviewed her about her experiences when this be put off at random moments in her life. Right. And then she wrote down little notes. And then we we asked her what her experience was. And Russ has this wonderful way of asking people about their experience that's very open and nonjudgmental and full of openness to possibilities.
You might think we're crazy or strange or impossible first.
And you can you can kind of hear participants starting with their presuppositions about what experience must be and answering in terms of those. And then Russ pushes back against that and says, well, to me, it sounds like you're just assuming this about your experience.
And maybe that's right and maybe it's not.
But let's be you again. And here are some possibilities you might consider about what might be in your experience that are different from from what you're reporting now. And that might they might be right and they might be wrong. But just like think about it and sitting. So he has this way of doing that. And then people come back the next day and the next day and the next day and sometimes they shift. And as you see them shifting a little bit away from those first reports, there's something kind of convincing about that sometimes.
I think so. I think that's part of what my exercise with Robert did for me. Mm hmm. And you can kind of see that just playing out and in the book, because we present the dialogue, most of the dialogue, word for word. So great as we're interviewing this participant. And then we've got these little side boxes where we argue about what's going on and connected to existing literature and stuff.
That's so perfect. Yeah. As you say, it's not just you guys make arguments for each other, but you're like. You're not both sort of figuratively facing each other, you're facing this real case and sort of collaboratively trying to figure out how to interpret it right and reacting both to each other and to the real case. It's wonderful. So, OK, we'll link to that book as well as to your blog. And and also, this is a good segue to your pick for this rationally speaking episode.
What is your pick book, article, blog? Something that's influenced your thinking. Right.
So we didn't talk about moral self-knowledge, which is something that I've been thinking a lot recently. But this topic is related to moral self-knowledge. How do you know what do you know about your own moral character? And unsurprisingly, I'm kind of skeptical about people's knowledge of their moral character.
This is a book that it came out in the year 2000 and it just it had a huge impact on me. And now I use it as the very first reading in this in this giant introductory class I teach called Evil right now. And it's three hundred seventy five students, which is the typical size. Wow. And this is a book. It's called Without Sanctuary. And it's a book of lynching photography that, you know, about 100 years ago.
And a lot of the lynchings were racially motivated, although not all of them. Right. And so you get these pictures of people would take pictures of the victims of the lynching and then make postcards out of them and then circulate them among their friends. And often in these pictures, the crowd would be around standing kind of proudly by the victim.
And so what James Allen and his co-authors did in this book was just kind of find as many of these postcards as they could and try to research the back story of all the victims of the lynching. And it's just really striking because here you you have like someone who's been murdered sometimes without even having been accused of anything serious. Yeah, right.
Like the person might be the mother of someone who took a pot shot at a police officer or someone who objected who, who, who who expressed approval of a black man having killed a white man who was abusing him.
So the person who expressed approval of that could be murdered in a lynching. Right. And then you get the pictures of the bystanders kind of proudly in front of this murder.
Like they think they've done something right.
They think they've done something righteous. Right. And they're posing for this photograph and they're circulating it and they're bringing their kids and they're collecting souvenirs like the person's knuckles and and shreds of cloth from their from their body, hanging from their clothes and stuff. And you read these horrible stories of how much torture was involved in these things sometimes.
And it's just to me, it's this amazing puzzle like what is going on with, you know, because it seems so horrible and so obviously horrible.
Right. But these people have seem to have no moral self knowledge of the of the gravity of what they've done. And so it's it's like it's emotionally moving hard book, right, Ed?
Because that is not to be true. Read it presents this real challenge. And then I structure this classical evil around it. Like it's like, OK, there's our question. Like, why are these people smiling? I mean, they well, you know, the book and I don't, but it seems like it could be potentially not about self knowledge, but about having a different framework of morality.
And they they are correct that they're being moral by this standard that their society or their subculture adheres to is right and try to be a long thread if you want to operate.
That's more a more relativist than I would be inclined to say.
Oh, I see. So maybe I was just I was they might say college in the way that you were using. It's a different kind of self-knowledge than than the knowledge of your internal states.
So it's sort of a different I guess I'm inclined to think that there are moral truths and that one of them is that you should not torture and murder someone because they expressed approval of a black man having shot his employer when the employer is using it.
Right. I think I guess I just think that's a moral truth. Right. Yeah.
But like discovering even even assuming moral realism that there are moral truths, discovering those truths can be a that that's like that seems like more of an act of a lack of knowledge about the world than it is knowledge about yourself and your psychology and internal state.
Yeah, but it's also a lack of knowledge about your own moral position in the world. Right. Your own moral character. OK, this is probably it's a surprise, so we're not going to solve the riddle, but that's OK anyway. OK, that's excellent. Will excellent. Clinton Grim, well linked to that. And to your blog and the book that you wrote with us, which is excellent. And Eric, thank you so much for coming back on the show.
This was a pleasure. Yeah, thanks for having me. This concludes another episode of Rationally Speaking. Join us next time for more explorations on the borderlands between reason and nonsense.