What one believes would be the equivalent of the ideology to which one narratively attaches. The How of belief is the manner in which this narration is upheld or enacted in the world. While the Why of belief is the reasoning or motivation behind these actions and ideological attachment.
Today we will only be getting into the What and How as the Why is more difficult to decipher from a purely outsiders’ perspective. The How as well is not easy to decipher, however after listening to hours of great in-depth conversation which systematically challenges core beliefs, some assumptions can be made. As with my typical general disclaimer, these assumptions are my best guess at understanding these two individuals who I have never met and should be taken as my personal guess as to how they perceive the beliefs they espouse. This is not a complete understanding of their person with all the lines of development which they have nor, does it limit their ability to grow going forward.
From the previous initial installment of the Harris-Peterson interactions (here) we had pegged the ‘What’ of their belief systems which is the easiest to access outermost layer of this golden circle.
Peterson espouses a belief in God and the value which religious stories bring. He understands and values the tribal nature of groups and believes that the morality which these groups create is of the highest ‘truth’ (we will define this ‘truth’ better soon as we did in the first article). This level of narrative attachment is perfectly positioned as valuing the lower left cultural quadrant above the others. Peterson himself describes not knowing how to integrate the other quadrant ‘truths’ like science and objective fact with the ‘truth’ of morality. He’s looking for but missing an integral map.
Harris espouses a belief in science and the objective facts which can be derived from our measuring of the world around us through rational means. He has acknowledged that there are things in the human experience which are not rational though does not seem to put much value in those items when expounding on the nature of the grounding of our experience. He has acknowledged that subjectivity exists though also rests in the objective definitions of that subjectivity. This level of narrative attachment is perfectly positioned as valuing the upper right objective quadrant above the others.
One big difference between Harris and Peterson, is that Harris believes that he has included the subjective morality within the objective domain whereas Peterson understands that they both bring ‘truth’ but acknowledges not having a way in which to reconcile the two. The claim made in this article is that Harris’s narration of rationality is attached to at a pre-rational horizon of being. Whereas Peterson’s narration of pre-rationality is attached to at a rational horizon of being. By diving deeper into the golden circle of belief, we will paint a picture in which ‘what’ Peterson believes is Blue, though ‘how’ he believes it is Orange. Where ‘what’ Harris believes is Orange, though ‘how’ he believes it is Blue.
With some quick refreshers of Integral background, we should keep a couple important things in mind.
"Nature is never hurried, yet everything is complete" - Lao Tzu
What Lao Tzu is stating above can only be true if what nature is, or the natural state of being is, is itself process. This is important to realize and important to keep in mind. Simply being at a particular state is partially natural, growing through them another part. And there is growth within all four quadrants.
When only orienting from a particular quadrant and it's narrative ability in life, we don't tend to acknowledge the process which has enabled us to get where we are. All of the four quadrants inherently have a dualistic view of the world and tend not to include the others in a process of growth. So firstly, we should remember process.
We should also remember how these quadrants describe 'truth'. What does 'truth' look like in all four quadrants?
These quadrants 'truths' are the ways in which someone orienting from that particular quadrant will see the 'truth' or validity of an event. They will focus on the 'truth' they see and narratively attach and will tend to simply want the others to acknowledge that aspect. The problem is that the others already have their own version of 'truth' to which they have attached and without an open mind nor an understanding of process, these alternative views simply compete rather than complement. Even if the other view is tolerated, it is often not integrated. Secondly, we should remember the quadrant 'truths'.
We can look at the What, How, and Why of belief in relation to the others in stages of development. (To see the details of this 'pond' migration check out a previous post here)
Both of these individuals can use rationality of course, though how it tends to be applied is dependent upon existing attachments to certain narrations. Again, this is simply some background to keep in mind as we jump into things.
Let's start with a summary in their own words.
Key quotes to take away from the above five and half minutes follow. These help to shed light on the above quadrant orientations and there collective inability to foundationally agree. Added are some [comments/colours] for an Integral reference point.
“What is the relationship between facts [Orange] and values [Blue] for instance? Or Science and Spiritual experience, or ethical lives? And we have for moment, differing answers to those questions.”
“We don’t simply come into contact with reality. We have to interpret reality. We interpret it through our senses and with our brains, obviously. But you need frameworks [Integral is the framework we use here], and as Jordan would say, ‘stories’ with which to do that [#1]. You don’t get facts in the raw. And Jordan believes because my purpose so often is to counter what I view as the dangerous dogmas [pre-rational belief] within religion, I ignore the power and even the necessity of certain kinds of stories and certain ways of thinking about the world and our situation in the world that not only bring many many millions and even billions of people immense value, are in fact necessary for anyone, however rational, to build a society where all of our well-being can be conserved.”
#1 - Here Sam Harris states that we must interpret information with a framework; a way in which to narrate or tell a story to ourselves of what we perceive. Sam summarizes this as Jordan's position though only believes that intuitions are what mediate between us and facts. This framework is what we will see Jordan Peterson calling an a-priori structure or framework. A-priori being something that can be known without experience or sense data. That which is logically or rationally reasoned; deductive reasoning. Therefore an a-priori framework is the underlying framework through which we interpret reality and process the world of facts. (This is foundationally important and we will talk about this later).
“Generally, in the philosophical community it’s accepted although not universally that it’s difficult if not impossible to derive values from facts. But the problem with that proposition is that you end up in a situation where either you lose all your values because they’re just arbitrary or you have to ground them in something that is revelatory. And Sam is concerned that one of the negative consequences of grounding your fundamental ethic in something that’s revealed is the emergent consequence of irrational fundamentalism. And so obviously that’s worth contending with [#2]. He’s taking issue with the philosophical idea that facts and values have to be separate and formulating the proposition that we can in fact ground a universal system of values in the facts and we can mediate between the [Orange/External] facts and the [Blue/Internal] system of values using our facility for truth but even more specifically, our facility for rationality. And that rationality can be the mediator between the world of facts [External] and the world of values [Internal].”
“We seem to agree on the necessity for the universal ethos. We even seem to agree, I would say, on what that is because certainly the minimization of suffering seems to me to be a very good place to start. We share a concern with and a belief that the pathway to that ethos is in some manner related to our ability to speak the truth. But we disagree on what that has to be grounded in and how it has to be grounded [They share a belief in 'truth', but differ on how they see 'truth' from their own quadrant]. My sense, especially after thinking about our discussion, is that Sam makes what rationality is do too much work [Sam is making Orange facts over-reach the Orange quadrant and move into defining the Blue quadrant, and it shouldn't]. And I’m hoping that… not that rationality is irrelevant or unimportant because it clearly is neither of those [He acknowledges the value Orange brings but is needing to fit it together with Blue which he also acknowledges to have value]. But maybe the devil’s in the details and hopefully we can get down to the details tonight.”
#2 - Here Jordan Peterson explains that values [in the subjective] if they are not defined by facts [in the objective] must be defined by arbitrary culture or something revealed to the Self. He then states that Sam's concern is a worry, which he shares, that there is opportunity for irrational fundamentalism [dogmatic pre-rational belief] to abuse this if subjectivity is the only thing defining our values.
JP: “We’ve already agreed, I think, and definitely stop me if I’m wrong, that there has to be an intermediary mechanism between the world of facts and the world of values. And, well, since we’ve talked I’ve been reading a variety of commentaries on Emanuel Kant mostly these have been written by Roger Scruton by the way. And this is actually the issue that Kant obsessed about for most of his philosophical life. And what he concluded was that empiricism can’t be right and rationality can’t be right as philosophical disciplines because you need an intermediary structure and that we have an in-built intermediary structure. And that structure is what mediates between the thing and itself; the world of facts let’s say and the outputs, the values…
SH: “The truth is we don’t quite agree on this. I mean, in my summary of your view of me, I would have agreed with that but for me it’s just facts all the way down. So, you’re describing more facts. [#3]”
JP: “Great, great. Glad to hear it. Glad to hear it man. Why do you need a brain then?”
SH: “Well, a brain is yet another part of reality. I mean, what I mean by a fact is….”
JP: “What does it do? If the facts are just there, what does the brain do?” It has to do something because otherwise you don’t need it.”
SH: “It does a lot but the… I mean, your concern… to jump to where I think we’re going in this conversation is that how is it that values can be another order of fact? That seems problematic to you. It seems problematic to David Hume.”
JP: “Well, it’s problematic for me for a technical reason which is that, and see if we agree on this, in order to perceive and to act which I believe are both acts of value [#4]. To perceive is an act of value because you have to look at something instead of a bunch of other things. So you elevate the thing that you’re perceiving to the position of highest value by perceiving it; by deciding to perceive it.”
SH: “That gets translated in my brain to just more facts. You’re just giving me the facts of human perception.”
JP: “That’s fine, that’s no problem. I’m perfectly happy about that. And then in order to act you have to select the target of action from among an infinite number, near infinite number – close enough, of possible mechanisms of action. And so, what a biological organism does is take the facts and translate them into perception and action. The only organism that do that with one-to-one mapping are organisms that are composed of sensory-motor cells like sponges, marine sponges which are composed of sensory-motor cells. They don’t have an intermediary nervous system. So, what they do, is they sit in the water and they make a sponge. They’re so simple that if you grind a sponge through a sieve in salt water it’ll reorganize itself into the sponge. So that’s quite cool. The sponge sits in the water, and what it does is, there’s waves on it and those are patterns. And the sponge opens and closes pores on its surface in response to those patterns. So, it maps the pattern of the waves right onto its behavior with no intermediary nervous system. But it can only map waves, that’s all it can do. And it can only open and close pores. That’s it. So, it does one-to-one fact-to-value mapping. Now what happens is that as the complexity of a biological organism increases two things happen. The first thing that happens is that the sensory and motor cells differentiate and so now the organism has sensory cells and motor cells. So, cells to detect and cells to act. It can detect more patterns because it’s more sophisticated at the sensory perspective and it can do more things because it has specialized motor systems but then what happens is that as it gets even more complex, then it puts an intermediary of nervous tissue in there and that structure increases in the number of layers of neurons. And what that means is that as that happens and as the sensory cells become more specialized and the motor output cells become more specialized many more patterns can be detected, those are roughly equivalent to facts, and many more motor outputs can be manifested but a tremendous number of calculations has to occur in that intermediary nervous tissue. And that’s the structure that I’m talking about. That structure exists and it translates the patterns to motor output. And it doesn’t do it on a one-to-one basis because there are more patterns, ‘more facts’, than there are motor outputs. So what has to happen is this tremendous plethora of facts that surrounds us has to be filtered to the point where you pick a single action because you can’t act otherwise. And so, the mechanism that reduces the number of facts to the selected action is the mechanism that mediates between facts and values. And it’s not simply in and of itself… it’s a fact that that exists, but what it does isn’t a ‘simple fact’. You can’t explain it, you can’t understand it.”
SH: “Why not? Why’s that?”
JP: “Well for the same reason you don’t know what a neural network is doing.
[#3] Sam Harris is stuck in a definition of the world as purely facts. [Upper Right]
[#4] Here Jordan Peterson explains that he sees values and he sees them in all steps of the process like where Sam Harris sees facts. [Lower Left]
Comically, though not surprisingly, Sam is basically looking everywhere and seeing facts [Orange] where Jordan is looking everywhere and seeing values [Blue]. Jordan however, acknowledges that he also sees the facts and this is an important distinction between the two.
JP: “Religion does provide those functional simplifications. That’s actually its purpose.
SH: “Yeah, but they’re simplifications appropriate to the iron age.
JP: “Well, some of them are for sure and that’s why we have to have this discussion because mere revelation and mere tradition is insufficient, and I truly believe we can agree on that. But back to the biological argument because I thought tonight I would make a very strictly biological argument. The question is, so you’ve got your sensory systems that are detecting the world of facts and you have your motor outputs system which, is a very narrow channel, because you can only do one thing at a time. And that’s one of the things about consciousness that’s quite strange, it a very very narrow channel. So you have to take this unbelievably complex world and you have to channel it into this very narrow channel and you don’t do that by being wrong about the world, but you do do that by ignoring a lot of the world and by using representations that are no more complicated than they have to be in order to attain the task at hand. It’s like you’re using low resolution representations of the world they’re not inaccurate because a low-resolution representation of the world isn’t inaccurate any more than a low-resolution photo is. But they are no higher resolution than they need to be in order for you to undertake the task at hand. And if you undertake the task at hand and that goes successfully, then what you’ve done, and this is basically the essences of American pragmatism, what you’ve done is you’ve validated the validity of your simplifications. So, if the axe you have in hand is sharp enough to chop down the tree, then it’s a good enough axe. And that’s part of the way we define truth pragmatically in the absences of infinite knowledge about everything. Okay, so you build up this nervous system between the world of facts and the world of values and it narrows the world of facts and the question then is how do you generate the mechanism that does that narrowing?” [#5]
SH: “But that’s not quite how the cake is layered because the facts are up here too. For me to notice that you’re even a person, or to attribute beliefs to you, or to have a sense of being in a relationship at all, this is one of those higher order interpretive acts based on a many layered nervous system.”
JP: “Yes, it’s not only bottom-up.”
SH: “Yeah it’s bottom-up and it’s top-down. But facts are also on the top, right. It’s not that we have facts here and values here.” [#6]
JP: “Okay, I think what I’m trying to do, I think, maybe, or it’s one way of thinking about it is that, you’re positing that we can use rationality as a mechanism for mediating between facts and values. I believe because otherwise there is no use for rationality, we can just have the facts. So, it's a process.”
SH: “It’s even simpler than that. For me, and I think for everyone if they will only agree to use language this way, for me values are simply facts about the experience of conscious creatures. Good and bad experiences give us our values.”
JP: “Yeah, but they’re not simple. That’s the problem. And neither are the goods and the bads.”
[#5] What Peterson is saying here is so important. Connected to the a-priori framework is this idea of how this framework get created in the first place and how we use it as we develop. Not simply that it exists, though also the processes for creation and use. This also describes how we attach to narrations which at one time are good enough.
[#6] Sam Harris wants to define the values as facts. Where 'if they will only agree to use language this way' and say values are facts about the subjective experience of conscious creatures, then we can only deal in facts. Although the singular term 'facts' covering all sounds like a nicer simpler package, it does a disservice to the types of 'facts'. Where objective facts are measurable, value 'facts' are felt. The problem here is that no matter the amount of facts you provide about a subjective experience, the experience itself is not felt. What information is being provided is an objectification of a subjective experience. But both are true and both the external quadrants and the internal quadrants exist.
Unfortunately we still have Harris claiming the correlates of experience are only to be found in the external objectively measurable facts. In contrast, Jordan Peterson claiming the correlates of experience are found in both the external of objective facts but he also acknowledges the correlates of experience which are found in the internal subjectively felt morals and values. The difference is that one of them, Peterson, can truly acknowledge both and the value they bring. The other, Harris, can only see the quadrant 'truth' he can see. This is the underlying basis for my assessment of Sam Harris believing Orange in a Blue way, while Jordan Peterson is believing in Blue in an Orange way.
JP: “So are you claiming then… like this is another problem. This is where I think that the argument that you make although accurate in its rudiments let’s say, is insufficiently high resolution. Because now it seems to me that you are including the domain of qualia unquestioningly in the domain of facts. Now, you can do that, but we need to know if that’s what you’re doing. Like, what are these facts you’re talking about? Are they mere manifestations of the objective world or do they shade into the subjective as well?”
SH: “There are objective facts about subjective experience. I can make true or false claims about your subjectivity. And you can make those about your own subjectivity. You can be wrong your own subjectivity. We are not subjectively incorrigible. [...Sam goes on to say...] Many people get confused between having answers in practice and there being answers in principle. There are many trivial fact-based claims we can make about reality where we can’t get the data but we know the data are there. Do you have an even or odd number of hairs on your body at this moment? We don’t want to think about what that would take to ascertain that fact. But there is a fact of the matter. And so it is with anything. What does a person weigh? Many facts are blurry because are you going to weigh him down to the one hundredth decimal place? No. So at a certain point you’re going to be rounding and someone’s weight at that point is changing every microsecond because they’re exchanging atoms with the air. So, there are facts that can be loosely defined. This is true of our subjective lives too [#7]. So, if it is a fact about you that when you were praying to Jesus you felt an up-welling of rapture, subjectively that can be an absolutely true thing to say about you. We can pair that subjective experience with an understanding of the neuro-physiological basis for it. You can think about it as a larger story about your life, but all of this can be translated [into the other quadrant correlations] into a fact-based discussion about what’s happening for you. And my only claim is that the value part and hence the ethics part relates to the extremes of positive and negative experience that people have in their lives.”
JP: “I’m not, first of all, I wouldn’t dispute, I don’t want to dispute the fact that there are stable qualia, pain and pleasure for example. And also, that there are fundamental motivational systems that structure our perception. So as the nervous system increases in complexity, these underlying subsections that produce these rather stable qualia evolve; hunger, thirst, defensive aggression, sexuality, all these sub-systems that label experience with certain somewhat inviolable labels. I understand that happens. The point I’m trying to make here to try to increase the breadth of the conversation about how facts get translated into values because it seems to me the other thing that your account doesn’t take proper, and this is what surprised me so much about your thinking when I first encountered it. See, I think manner in which facts are translated into values is something that actually evolved, and it evolved over three and a half billion years, the three and a half billions years of life. And it built the nervous system from the bottom up and it built this reducing mechanism that takes the infinite number of facts and translates them into a single value per action and it does that in layers. And so there is a relationship between the world of facts and the world of values and there has to be, but it isn’t derivable one-to-one in the confines of your single existence through pure rationality. It’s way more complicated than that. [#8]”
SH: “There’s more to it than rationality. Again, it’s not rationality that causes you to remove your hand from a hot stove. And it’s not rationality that causes you to like the experience of love and bliss and rapture and creativity over, or more than pointless misery and despair.”
JP: “Right, so things other than rationality are clearly necessary which is partly my point.”
SH: “Absolutely [Yay, agreement!]. But the question is do we ever have to be irrational to get the good things in life? And I would argue that the answer to that is clearly no. There is nothing irrational about loving your wife or your best friend or your self or even a stranger. If in what you mean by love there is genuinely wanting happiness for that person, genuinely taking pleasure in their company, genuinely wanting to find a way of being where you’re no longer in a zero-sum relationship with a stranger or a partner, but you’re collaborating to have better lives. [#9] And so, rationality moves through that situation continuously because rationality is the only way you and I can get our representations of the world to cohere. When I say, ‘there’s a lion behind that rock. Don’t go over there.’ That only makes sense to you if you’re playing this rationality game the way I’m playing it. If I mean something else by ‘lion’ or something else by ‘don’t go over there’, you’re confused and very likely dead or not.”
JP: “So if we’re trying to establish the proposition that rationality is the mechanism by which we make our worldviews cohere, I would agree with that in part. We also make them cohere because we are actually biologically structured the same way and so there is a proclivity for them to cohere to begin with, but we iron out our differences through the exercise, I wouldn’t call it rationality, I would call it logos because it’s a broader term.”
SH: “This is where he’s smuggling in Jesus I’m afraid.”
[#7] Here Sam Harris, whether he knows it or not is agreeing with what Jordan had expressed in that Sam's arguments are insufficiently high resolution. They seem to be accurate enough to define things objectively, though not accurate enough to be integrating the subjective experience. Sam seems to be expressing the idea of things being represented as states of existence where Jordan is additionally expressing that process plays an important role.
[#8] This is what Integral maintains. This nature of development of an individual today is akin to the development our our societies as a whole. The subjective and objective evolve together. These quadrants are inseparable parts of existence.
[#9] Although Sam Harris says 'no' you never have to be irrational to get the good things in life, I would say 'Yes'. Sam is sitting at a point of being rational and forgetting or not including the process which he took to get to that point of rationality. We must grow through pre-rational or irrational stages of development to get to rational ones. Starting as ego-centric pre-rational babies, we must grow to be able to genuinely want good for others, or to want to be in a non-zero sum existence. This does not simply exist as a child nor as an adult. This is a process of growth which must be traveled.
Given the proven positions which these two tend to inhabit within their conversations we can really get an understanding of not only where they come from, though how they come at the ideology they espouse. The cognitive positions taken and the lapses in perspective or application which create some of the examples which follow.
SH: “Again, to say that there is more to life than being rational, is not to say and perhaps never to say you need to run against rationality, you need to be irrational in order to get something good. [#10]”
Douglas: “We haven’t tried the purely rational approach yet, or we haven’t tried it for very long.” …. “I think that a concern which Jordan has and certainly a concern I have is if we try this, we can think of all sorts of ways in which it can go wrong, if you take away all that supporting structure. You can think of any number of ways in which it can go wrong. And I suppose that is the root of the concern about where you might be taking us.
SH: “Well, give me one way where you think it can go wrong.”
JP: “What if you’re not very smart?”
SH: “So then you’re basically saying that the stupid people need their myths. You know, we smart people on stage don’t need them.”
JP: “Well, I actually am saying that to some degree. Look, look, if you’re not exceptionally cognitively astute, you should be traditional and conservative. Because if you can’t think well, you’re going to think badly. And if you think badly you’re going to fall into trouble. And so, it is definitely the case, and this has been a cliché of political belief for a long time, if you’re not very smart it’s better to be conservative because then you do what everyone else does and generally speaking doing what everyone else does is the path of least error moving forward. Now that doesn’t mean that rationality is unnecessary.”
Douglas: “Nor does it mean that all conservatives are stupid.”
JP: “It doesn’t mean that either, right. Precisely, it doesn’t mean that either.” [#11]
[#10] Sam Harris get's an immediate single word response from Peterson when asking where rationality isn't enough. This is a common theme with Harris when presented with that which is not rational, he states something to the effect of 'of course there is more to life than rationality', but yet does not ever seem to present something which is irrational. The 'rationality' position he takes is one which, no matter the events, there is a context through which it can be rationally understood. This is fundamentally a lack of consistent and rigorous application of the same standardization of criteria.
[#11] Sam basically claims that everything is rational except what he doesn't like, dogmatism which he claims is irrational or 'goes against rationality'. Even though dogmatism in a more historical context and, as Peterson just pointed out, for those not particularly cognitively astute was and is rational. Dogmatism keeps stable boundaries where the individual or group may not be able to more autonomously create or enforce them. Like Peterson is saying, if you can't think well, then you're going to think badly and maybe those people both individually and collectively should not be creating the standardized rules to follow.
Key Point - JP: "So, I would say that I do consciously participate in the process that you described. But, you see, I would also make the case, and this is certainly one of the things that we've been discussing, that you do it unconsciously.
The best way I can try to summarize all the info from these four conversations is to splice parts of these conversations together where they had been talked about over the days. Allowing for contextual validity and without attempting to take any arguments out of context we would have the crux of their differences as what follows. [comments] and [...] extracted wordiness.
JP: “Look, think about it like languages. This is kind of an answer to the problem that you laid out which is a real problem I’m not trying to deny the problem. If you look, there’s a lot of languages, lots of languages. Look at how different they are. It’s like, yeah, at some levels of analysis they’re fundamentally different and at other levels of analysis they’re fundamentally the same which is why we know they are languages. And you can say well there’s a very large number of stories, it’s like yes there are, but the fact that there is enough commonality across the class of stories, the set of all possible stories so that we can identify what constitutes a story. And I would say that there is enough commonality across the set of all possible good stories that we can say ‘well here’s a canonical good story’. Which is by the way what you do at the beginning of The Moral Landscape because you say this is horrible, this is good, we should move from what’s horrible to what’s good. Yes, you’ve taken a fragment of the universal story and you’ve made it the axiom of your moral system which is what you should do. But the claim that I think is not helpful, even though I understand it, is that’s purely a claim of mediated fact. It’s like, no. There is no unmediated fact.”
SH: “Well there is, yes, even facts aren’t unmediated facts. I mean you can’t…
SH: “You can’t judge something to be factual without presupposing the validity of certain intuitions. Like…”
SH: “That causes precede events. Or that causes precede their effects. And those intuitions can be wrong. I mean we can live in a teleological universe where everything is getting pulled into the future by some kind of attractor. And our notion of causation is totally backwards. That remains to be discovered and we would use other intuitions to make that discovery. Again, you do pull yourself up by your bootstraps. There’s no branch of science or mathematics or anything fundamental, logic, that can get away from that.”
JP: “Right, right.”
SH: “But given that picture, that doesn’t render all intuitions equally respectable.”
JP: “Absolutely, I agree.”
JP: “But they are no higher resolution than they need to be in order for you to undertake the task at hand. And if you undertake the task at hand and that goes successfully, then what you’ve done, and this is basically the essences of American pragmatism, what you’ve done is you’ve validated the validity of your simplifications. So, if the axe you have in hand is sharp enough to chop down the tree, then it’s a good enough axe. And that’s part of the way we define truth pragmatically in the absences of infinite knowledge about everything.
JP: “There are higher order principles of the sort that I described that you also appear to rely on in The Moral Landscape the idea of these profound moral intuitions.”
JP: “And so, that’s what I’m after. What are these profound moral intuitions and what is their source? Like I’m perfectly willing to make the claim, and have in fact in detail, that these moral intuitions… See this is a place where we differ a little bit and maybe we can go here tomorrow night. See, it seems to me that, for your argument is the facts are laying out there and you can extract out value from them and we already described why you want to do that because you want to at least not move into the nihilistic direction and you want to ground them in some sort of reality. It’s like, fair enough. But the thing is, is that the facts as they are have been around for a very very very very long time, let’s say three and a half billion years - the entire expanse of life. And it’s the operation of those facts on life that has produced the a-priori implicit interpretive structures that guide our interaction with the facts. And those a-priori implicit structures that have emerged out of this evolutionary course have a structure that mediates between us and the facts that cannot be derived from the facts at hand. So, then the question is what is that structure? And it’s in both of our interests to get that right [SH: “yeah”] because you do use that as the source of moral intuition. It’s like, right, agreed. That’s the source of moral intuition.”
JP: “I still need an answer to the question about what it is that’s this transcendental rational structure without an a-priori dogma because I don’t see it?”
SH: “Well, again, we touched on this a little bit last night in that I freely admitted that in every domain of human inquiry no matter how, the most hard-headed so mathematics, logic, physics. At some point we have to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. At some point we make a move that is not self-justifying and is not justified by any other move that’s more rudimentary.”
JP: “Right, that’s a statement of faith.”
SH: “That’s a callow use of the term faith.”
JP: “No it’s not it’s a precise definition of an axiomatic statement of faith.”
SH: “My faith that two plus two makes four…” [Sam dives into a rudimentary intuition not the novel bootstrap-pulling, non-self-justified, non-rudimentary move he just described above.]
JP: “That’s not faith.”
SH: “Yeah, well, no. It is my intuition that this is a valid and replicable and generalizable principle.”
JP: “No, that’s not faith either. Your statement that that’s a useful claim is a statement of faith but neither of those where statements of faith.”
SH: “They’re statements of intuition. No, no, these are intuitions. These are I mean, because they are intuitions they can run afoul of other discoveries and other intuitions as you know.”
JP: “Well, if mathematical facts are intuitions than what are we doing with facts?”
SH: “We, for 2000 years, people have been studying geometry and had a very well worked out set of mathematical intuitions with respect to Euclidean space, flat geometry. And then some brilliant guy, Riemann might have been the first said ‘actually you can curve space, I can bend this triangle and all of a sudden it has more than 180 degrees’. That’s an intuition that people tuned up pretty quickly, but all of humanity was blind to it for the longest time. These are, what I mean by intuition is the thing you are using to understand something that you are not in the position to analyze. But that’s not faith of the sort which is listen I know the Bible was dictated by the creator of the universe, I know Jesus was his son, I know he rose from the dead, I know he’ll be coming back and a thousand other propositional claims that seem highly implausible.”
JP: “If it’s a statement of faith and it’s in the value domain, how is it derivable from facts?”
JP: “Like, what are these facts you’re talking about? Are they mere manifestations of the objective world or do they shade into the subjective as well?”
SH: “[…] What does a person weigh? Many facts are blurry because are you going to weigh him down to the one hundredth decimal place? No. So at a certain point you’re going to be rounding and someone’s weight at that point is changing every microsecond because they’re exchanging atoms with the air. So, there are facts that can be loosely defined. This is true of our subjective lives too. So, if it is a fact about you that when you were praying to Jesus you felt an up-welling of rapture, subjectively that can be an absolutely true thing to say about you. [The conscious experience of Jesus – just a *heads up* because we will see this again] We can pair that subjective experience with an understanding of the neuro-physiological basis for it. [Yes, see the correlates within all four quadrants] You can think about it as a larger story about your life, but all of this can be translated into a fact-based discussion about what’s happening for you. And my only claim is that the value part and hence the ethics part relates to the extremes of positive and negative experience that people have in their lives. [Yes, and furthermore it relates to all aspects of experience in life]”
JP: “I’m not, first of all, I wouldn’t dispute, I don’t want to dispute the fact that there are stable qualia, pain and pleasure for example. And also, that there are fundamental motivational systems that structure our perception. So as the nervous system increases in complexity, these underlying subsections that produce these rather stable qualia evolve; hunger, thirst, defensive aggression, sexuality, all these sub-systems that label experience with certain somewhat inviolable labels. I understand that happens. [...] See, I think manner in which facts are translated into values is something that actually evolved, and it evolved over three and a half billion years, the three and a half billion years of life. And it built the nervous system from the bottom up and it built this reducing mechanism that takes the infinite number of facts and translates them into a single value per action and it does that in layers. And so there is a relationship between the world of facts and the world of values and there has to be, but it isn’t derivable one-to-one in the confines of your single existence through pure rationality. It’s way more complicated than that.”
SH: “There’s more to it than rationality. Again, it’s not rationality that causes you to remove your hand from a hot stove. And it’s not rationality that causes you to like the experience of love and bliss and rapture and creativity over, or more than pointless misery and despair.”
JP: “Right, so things other than rationality are clearly necessary which is partly my point.”
SH: “Absolutely. But the question is do we ever have to be irrational to get the good things in life? And I would argue that the answer to that is clearly no. [Yes, you must grow through pre-rational to get to rational, he even talks about his four and a half year old daughter who is in this stage of development] There is nothing irrational about loving your wife or your best friend or yourself or even a stranger. If in what you mean by love there is genuinely wanting happiness for that person, genuinely taking pleasure in their company, genuinely wanting to find a way of being where you’re no longer in a zero-sum relationship with a stranger or a partner, but you’re collaborating to have better lives. And so, rationality moves through that situation continuously because rationality is the only way you and I can get our representations of the world to cohere. [Pre-rational people don’t give a shit about non-zero-sum interactions, they have not yet developed to that point.]
JP: “In the meta-physic you outline, rationality in the service of love, this is interesting, like, I’m not sure you get to get away with that because, like, is it rationality or is it love? Because I don’t understand the place in your conceptual system for love given your emphasis on rationality as the mechanism of ethics. So, I would say to the degree that I smuggle in Jesus, which by the way isn’t accidental in some sense and I’m fully conscious when I’m doing it, you smuggle in love and it essentially plays the same role.”
SH: “No, no. Love, but love is an experienced reality [So is Jesus – Callback to the previous *heads up*]. I mean love is a state of consciousness it’s a state of…”
JP: “Is it is fact?”
SH: “Well, it’s a fact that one can experience it or not.” [So is Jesus]
JP: “Well, yeah, but that’s not the same thing.”
SH: “No, it is.”
JP: “It’s a fact that you can experience something but there is also the thing that you are experiencing as a fact.”
SH: “Well, no, there are facts about the range of human experiences – not even just human, conscious experiences. […] consciousness admits of a range of experiences and love is one of the best on offer. [So is Jesus] It’s not the only one we care about but it’s the one that anchors us to a positive commitment to the well-being of other conscious systems. [So is Jesus]”
JP: “But the thing is that it’s not a fact. I agree with you Sam.”
SH: “But no, it is a fact that loving someone entails a… really, there are love and its counterfeits, right. People can confuse romantic attachment or lust with love. So, and the Buddhists are especially good at differentiating these various states of consciousness [One of which can be called ‘Christ consciousness’]. And this true pleasure, mental pleasure in the company of another that is colored by a commitment to their well-being, a wanting them to be happy, wanting to have their hopes to be realized, a non-zero-sum commitment or sense of entanglement with them. And you can see your failures to love. You can be with people who you think you love, you know I’m with my best friend say and I just find out something fantastic has happened for him and let’s say in his career. And I feel a moment of envy. Well then you see, well just how much do you love this person if your first reaction to something good happening to them, is you feel poorer for it.”
JP: “That’s the Cain and Able story.”
SH: “Exactly, so these are all kinds of defects you can witness in your own mind and yes you pay enough attention to what it’s like to be you, the full horror show of almost biblical unwinding of all possibility is available and you add psychedelics to that cocktail and it gets even more vivid.”
JP: “So are you claiming that that’s a fact?”
SH: “These are facts about the human mind. And it is also to factual to say that it is possible to navigate in this space. It is possible to design institutions and social systems and ethical commitments that help us navigate in this space. It’s not that we have to get up every morning naked and try to rebuild civilization and all of human wisdom for ourselves each day, we inherit the most useful tools, you don’t have to figure this all out for yourself and my appeal to you is that we should want to use all the best tools available without hamstringing ourselves by this notion that certain tools must be the best for all time. [It's not that a tool would be best for all time, but would be best in a particular situation independent of the time in which the same situation arises.]
From the above summary and the conversations more generally, it seems that Sam Harris is fighting a few logical self-contradictions and jumping a few logical gaps. This is a telltale sign of someone not fully applying rationality and logic to a narration they hold dogmatically, even if that dogmatically held narration is one of logic and rationality.
It seems to me that if we inherit the best tools and we also inherit some defects then maybe the best tools we have can help us with these defects. It seems that these biblical stories or archetypal stories are themselves tools towards understanding the nature of that which we have inherited. And when doing as Sam suggests and paying enough attention to what it’s like to be a person, we can see the full horror show of humanity. These defects that we will find within us can be remedied by first acknowledgement of their existence and identification which can be greatly helped with the inherited tools of archetypal narration. This will allow us to nip these inherited defects in the bud as there will not be such a need or desire to explore them to their often ruinous end.
The fundamental point to be gleaned from the conversations and Jordan Peterson's insistence on an a-priori framework is that Integral Theory can certainly be a comprehensive guide to understanding that framework if it isn't itself that framework. Integral is simply the best, most updated tool we have for understanding the biological, historical, evolutionary, societal, and cultural aspects to our mediated filtering of patterns from the external world of facts to the internal world of values. This is why Integral and even the four quadrants do such a good job of providing a lens through which to understand the differences and disagreements that these two individuals have. I'm really wondering what Jordan Peterson thinks of Integral Theory?
If you are someone seeking to understand this framework and where it can take us take a look at my book - Horizons of Heart.
The Intro to Integral is a good place to start understanding Integral (click here)
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