Subjective-objective axis versus absolute-relative axis

Yesterday’s post was god-awful. Good idea, worst writing of all time. Let’s see if I can improve on that a little.

Something else I noticed yesterday is a common reason I tend to talk past people. It is because they don’t have a mental concept for the idea that something subjective can be correct or incorrect. As with most things, they will overcome this ideological shortcoming with common sense if they have to for some practical problem. But without being forced, aspies will fall back on their absolute == objective assumption and muggles will return to their feelings and mystical woo.

See, for a couple of centuries now we in the West have worshiped the god of Rationalism. Why? Because left to our own devices, we humans return to a base state of nature using only Kahneman’s System 1 style of thinking. That is, heuristics, instincts, intuitions, feelings- very reactionary stuff. Rationalism corrected for our most prevailing shortcoming as a species, and allowed us to develop into abstract, scientific thinkers. We trained System 2 diligently and fervently, in order to overcome System 1 biases and miscalculations and fallacies. We made doctors and engineers and scientists out of healers and mechanics and magicians.

Then the industrial revolution happened, and we migrated to sterile suburbia and lost touch with the blood and soil and System 1. Things that were once considered “common sense” are now rare, and buried under so much senseless academic paper. There is a reason we refer to these things as “sense”, because that’s exactly what it is. Familiarity, memories of sight and touch and sound and smell. In the modern day, it is not at all unusual for “engineers” to graduate without knowing what an engine even looks like. And we trust these people to build better engines? With what, pure calculus?

Math is great. I am a fan. Well, most of the time (she can be a real bitch sometimes). But you can do calculus all day and it’s not going to replace your brake lines. For that, you need some assurance that your mechanic really understands the ding an sich (in 2015 how many people would trust themselves to do this?).

Okay, so I’ve reviewed the objective-subjective distinction for you. System 2 is the objective one, got it?

Here’s the thing that gets most aspies’ panties twisted: subjective impressions can be correct and incorrect. They can be precise and accurate or not. One movie can be better, in an absolute sense, than another movie. One essay can be better than another. But you can’t prove that it’s better. You can make arbitrary judgments about what makes a good movie, but in the end you are trying to make a subjective thing objective. Can’t do it. Ain’t gonna happen. You can assign numerical scores, and break your analysis down into fine-grained categories, and be the fairest of fair judges, and it doesn’t change the fact that you’re turning a bunch of little judgment calls into one big judgment call.

It is absolutely necessary to understand that judgment and reason are symbiotic. You switch back and forth between them constantly. Wisdom without knowledge is lost, and knowledge without wisdom is blind.

What you need to understand is that something can be absolutely superior to something else without there existing a method to prove that it is. Again, so many panties in bunches. People imagine themselves disagreeing about something, and they want to be able to argue about it. But when you get to the bottom of the matter, all you can do is assert that your arbitrary judgment call was better than the other guy’s arbitrary judgment call. And you can be absolutely right! And still, you can’t prove it objectively, in a way that all reasonable men must accept. You just have to hope that the other guy is being absolutely honest about his feelings. (Which is vanishingly rare, so now you can see why people try to frame it in objective terms.)

Absoluteness is about correctness and rightness and truthfulness. Objectivity is about provability according to axioms. When something is “objectively” correct, it’s because it follows the established rules. When something is “subjectively” correct, it’s because judgment fits reality.

This bit about subjective correctness is precisely the reason why genius requires absolute humility along with intellectual honesty. You simply cannot achieve massive creativity without a heavy reliance on System 1, but the proper use of this system requires such humility as can only be obtained by humans possessed of a crippling inferiority complex. We do not tend to be humble unless we spend our lives meditating on the vastness of the universe. You also cannot be intellectually dishonest, for reasons I need not elaborate for Enkidu’s Rationalist children. So although a genius requires high intelligence, and the conviction that he is unique among men and therefore has a special task ordained for him by destiny or divine command, he can’t allow himself to believe this somehow makes him good.

This is probably why materialism aids intellect and retards creativity- the atheist retains objectivity and loses the absolute reference frame. It takes a very serious inferiority complex to overcome the certain knowledge that you are special. Bertrand Russell serves as an example of the rare atheist-genius combination, fostered by unusual intellect and extreme depression.

See, this is what I’m talking about. We spend so much time warning ourselves away from the misuse of our instincts- and the way charlatans and advertisers take advantage of them- that we never talk about how to use them correctly. Most people apparently don’t even realize you can have right feelings and wrong feelings. I’m going to change this even if I have to do it completely by myself.


About Aeoli Pera

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11 Responses to Subjective-objective axis versus absolute-relative axis

  1. Edenist whackjob says:

    System 1 can tell us about goodness, but it’s always subjective. This or that feels good or looks good.

    System 2 lets us form concepts, but we can never speak about meaning. Such things are off-limits, as Wittgenstein pointed out. We can say that a bachelor is unmarried or that the sun is X degrees warm, but we can never speak about what is true, beautiful or good to a human.

    What we yearn for is Goodness as a concept. If we have Goodness we have some epistemological foundation for every other metaphysical concept – Truth, Beauty, Romance, Justice, Meaning, etc.

    Of course, this requires some kind of Isness. Plato, Evola and mystics say there is some kind of Ultimate Truth, a way of pinning all of our concepts to some underlying solidity. A vertical dimension to existence, as the Perennial Philosophers call it. Buddha, Korzybski and Ligotti dispute this. Aristotle probably ranks somewhere in the middle. (Less Wrong probably do too – they would say that we should “dissolve the question”, that Meaning doesn’t matter, that all meaning is ultimately just an arbitrary utility function anyway, and that all intuition is merely how it feels internally to light up certain brain networks).

    Without Goodness as an absolute concept, all of our concepts that we use to guide our existences are paper money. When it comes time to collect, to cash them in for something real, there is only air. We need a gold vault to hold everything up, something to give our concepts grounding. This is why I became interested in religion – without some fundamental Isness to the universe, there isn’t really any reason to live. With no way to form concepts outside of logic or science, there is no driving force. I suppose we could live like animals, blissfully unaware, and going on instinct. Or maybe Nietzsche’s Will To Power, or Eliezer Yudkowski’s utility function-driven Rationalism. But all of it sounds like escape from fundamental reality.

    Witness how Western Civilizations contorts itself, trying to pretend there is some meat to the bones of life-motivation without really providing any resolution to existential angst. Any drive to live that still exists is made up of borrowed concepts from Christianity, or is the regression-to-animals that lets us escape the whole question of “why?” altogether.

    All of this is uber-philosophical though, and I suspect a lot of it is an artefact of my own psyche. For other people, “why should we live?” is not even an issue, and concept-formation is self-evident. I suspect that having Depersonalization for so long has made me tediously stubborn when it comes to accepting metaphysics of any nature. At the same time, the Ligottian horror of never finding any such valid metaphysics drives me to keep seeking it (and I do believe religion is the answer).

    • Aeoli Pera says:

      Well you’re mixing in something else. I don’t know whether existential dread is strongly related to regular instinct like I’m talking about. It’s not an experience I’m familiar with.

      >Without Goodness as an absolute concept, all of our concepts that we use to guide our existences are paper money. When it comes time to collect, to cash them in for something real, there is only air. We need a gold vault to hold everything up, something to give our concepts grounding.

      Analogies like that make me want to try weed again. Clearly it is working for you.

      • Edenist whackjob says:

        “Well you’re mixing in something else. I don’t know whether existential dread is strongly related to regular instinct like I’m talking about. It’s not an experience I’m familiar with.”

        You were saying there is something like subjectively correct things, that cannot be proven by System 2. I’m saying I agree, and saying that those things are in fact of supreme importance from an existentialist perspective. It is more correct to say that “life is good and worthwhile” but it can never be *proven* in the sense that things today are proven today (with weighing and prodding). Of course, most people borrow their concept of life-being-good from Christianity, which firmly established it, or they side-step the question altogether and just live as animals. But you can’t keep borrowing against vanished gold forever. We have emptied that vault, as Nietzsche pointed out. Comes the day when such concepts must be traded in and there will be nothing.

        “Analogies like that make me want to try weed again. Clearly it is working for you.”

        This is one of those things that’s been percolating in my brain in one form or another for a long time. I remember as a kid comparing two things and wondering which one was *objectively* best. I just knew the right answer was floating around out there somewhere. I would even go so far as to say Isness (ie metaphysical identity) has been the central theme of my thinking.

        I suspect these kinds of things come from my melony side.

      • Edenist whackjob says:

        It would be fun if you read Ligotti’s “Conspiracy against the human race”. I can give it more thorough read as well. I’d bet good money that Ligotti has clinical DP – it’s not for nothing his philosophy has been dubbed “Dark Buddhism”.

  2. Lazer says:

    “Most people apparently don’t even realize you can have right feelings and wrong feelings. I’m going to change this even if I have to do it completely by myself

    This is where aspies fall short when playing the social game. They mention something with positive intentions thats from system two, but it overrides the system one mechanism of whomever they are speaking with. Which in turn causes feels bad.

    • Aeoli Pera says:

      I think the main thing is that aspies get really traumatized by the NT linguistic divide: “So in practice we have aspies and NTs verbally agreeing that the behavior of pop stars is reprehensible, but aspies are stating their instinctive response to the behavior whereas NTs are misrepresenting their true feelings in order to avoid social stigma. This happens often enough that an effective cultural divide is created between the connotations favored by aspies and those favored by NTs.”

      So they stop trusting their very good instincts because in the area that matters the most (social, tribal), their instincts were consistently punished.

  3. Edenist whackjob says:

    The whackjob posts somewhere else for once:


    I see this very clearly in software development. For every new Javascript framework that comes out that does basically the same thing as the others, your irritation increases a little bit. It causes fragmentation and drains mindshare and man-hours. Why can’t everyone just use the same framework so we can build a strong ecosystem and get shit done? (And vastly increased efficiency is indeed the result when someone comes along and creates an almost-monopoly for a while, like Google has done with AngularJS (many people complain about the learning curve of that one, but for me it has been a game-changer)).

    But of course, on a macro-level, it’s good that there is a lot of fragmentation in the community as it causes the local zeitgeist to be one of dynamism. Were it not for Javascript hipsters constantly stirring the pot, web dev would stagnate and we’d be like Java or Fortran or something. Also, all those little toy frameworks that come out just to demonstrate some new experiment also serve the purpose of demonstrating that a concept works. The best inventions then get added to the mainstream frameworks.

    So, the critical thing is to find that balance between fragmentation, which gives us dynamism, and solidity, which gives us efficiency. Probably the best model comes from the animal world, where we can talk about having strong local niches while still thinking of the system as being in flux and evolving as a whole.

    • Edenist whackjob says:

      Economics as akin to evolution. Has anyone written about that?

      • Edenist whackjob says:

        Hayek talked about prices as an essential mechanism of planning, which the free market provides. This is like that, but for invention.

        Of course, we also have to take human nature into account (triply or quadruply so for us Edenists with our non-monolithic view of “human”). Take Linux for instance – Linus Torvalds deciding to put that out into the world is something akin to The Mule in Asimov’s Foundation books – utterly unpredictable in economic terms, yet vastly influential. I have a sense a pure Thal economy would be a lot like that. To analogize with evolution again, it would be like some species figuring out how to improve evolution, then abolishing the whole thing in favor of a better system.

  4. Hosea Horman says:

    (from what I’ve read) Is that what you are using on your blog?

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