Wednesday, February 17, 2010


when it's over, i want to say: all my life
i was a bride married to amazement.
i was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

when it's over, i don't want to wonder
if i have made of my life something particular, and real.
i don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

mary oliver

more on the subject: i just found this paper by a philosopher and a social scientist, called "why do humans reason? arguments for an argumentative theory".

abstract: "Reasoning is generally seen as a mean to improve knowledge and make better decisions. Much evidence, however, shows that reasoning often leads to epistemic distortions and poor decisions. This suggests rethinking the function of reasoning. Our hypothesis is that the function of reasoning is argumentative. It is to devise and evaluate arguments intended to persuade. Reasoning so conceived is adaptive given human exceptional dependence on communication and vulnerability to misinformation. ...Poor performance in standard reasoning tasks is explained by the lack of argumentative context. When the same problems are placed in a proper argumentative setting, people turn out to be skilled arguers. Skilled arguers, however, are not after the truth but after arguments supporting their views. This explains the notorious confirmation bias. This bias is apparent not only when people are actually arguing but also when they are reasoning proactively with the perspective of having to defend their opinions. Reasoning so motivated can distort evaluations and attitudes and allow the persistence of erroneous beliefs. Proactively used reasoning also favors decisions that are easy to justify but not necessarily better. In all of these instances traditionally described as failures or flaws, reasoning does exactly what can be expected of an argumentative device: look for arguments that support a given conclusion, and favor conclusions in support of which arguments can be found. "

there are these rare thinkers, though-- really, having read a significant amount of philosophy, i find them to be so utterly rare-- who seem to go where the argument leads them-- who don't begin with a commitment to an outcome, but discover, with wonder, along with the rest of us, where the train of thought leads. they're willing to be proved wrong. can't we argue from a place of wonder? isn't that what wondering is? or is wondering also problematic? does it only lead to arguments, or can it also lead to understanding?

so understanding stands apart. it's clearly a way of knowing, but not a way arrived at by arguments, whose function is to convince, and to assess for convincingness. so what is it, if anything, that moves when we come to understand? what is it we do, cognitively? is it a movement? (we must be moved.) is it utterly still?

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