Sunday, August 19, 2012

Interview with a Naked Brain

I conducted an interview with written questions with a naked brain, this one named Massimo Piglucci, with explanatory background. This was posted previously. The replies are in! Only the questions and answers however are reprinted below.

Interviewer: Doesn't this example [of  nonscientistic objections] suggest that the attribution of the hodge podge of positions widely held by skeptics that you dislike are not attributable to scientism?

Piglucci: "     "
Translation: I don't like scientistic people but I can call anyone I don't like scientistic and I'm a professional philosopher and don't have to justify my opinion. I'm a believer in philosophical rationalism instead of realism, which puts me at odds with real scientists. Therefore I must attack scientism, a duty which far exceeds getting right piddling details about people I don't like.

I:  Is it not possible that the nature of the skeptical movement is so mixed because skepticism is undefined?

P: "     "
Translation: If I define skepticism, it would mean I couldn't criticize people for not being good skeptics on grounds they don't agree with me. Also, if I am clear about being an anti-realist, for instance, people might be able to articulate criticisms of me. If I am unclear about what I believe, I can dismiss most criticisms as misunderstandings by obtuse people.

I: Is it not possible that clarifying the metaphysical presuppositions would be more useful?
P: "     "
Translation: It would only be useful in really understanding the issues, not in supporting my position. I didn't quite understand your grammar about what is "not scientism in any ordinary sense" but I'm not interested in understanding your position. It might be reasonable criticism. It is rude to jab people with pointed questions you can't answer without admitting implicitly you might be wrong.

I: In fact, is it possible that emphasizing niceness above all else can lead to gross error?

P: "     "
Translation: Niceness is more important than truth. Niceness is what makes the world pleasant for me, and quarrelsome people who keep jabbing pointed questions at me should be ignored.

I: Since so much of this boils down to not liking people's bad manners for holding positions you disagree with, such as scientism, the final question is, why are your feelings privileged?

P: "If you think that what I have written, including links to previous posts, amount to just feelings about people I disagree with, I can only say you have missed much of the point, and I don't have the energy or time to restart from scratch."

As you should expect, none of the links in his post were relevant to the questions asked.

Obviously it is personally very aggravating to try to ask serious questions with paragraphs trying to make them perfectly clear, just to be ignored, to be insolently dismissed. It takes a lot of gall to claim I missed the point when he clearly ignored everything I asked. Particularly since his actual program did in fact boil down to attacks on people he didn't like (not naming them directly is a petty subterfuge if you ask me.) Well, I guess that's what being a philosopher is all about.

Despite the personal rudeness, naturally I still try to see what else he may be driving at that I missed. I reconsidered his point B, about "skeptics" and "atheists" and "humanists"  (not scare quotes, I have only a vague suspicion what the man could possibly mean) feeling superior. I have no doubt that this occurs, inasmuch it occurs in all voluntary groups in some degree. It seems to be a social bonding mechanism. And I am sure that a man such as himself who joins such groups regularly sees it more often. Nonetheless this is so categorical I tend to suspect projection, not even anecdotal impression. Certainly it lacks very much sensitivity to other human beings. People are so various it is on the face of it unlikely that this kind of petty judgmentalism has much chance of being right.

His phrase about a culture of insults really gives away his game I think. It's just people gettting excited, and invested in their opinions. In particular, his notion that atheists and skeptics and humanists aren't afraid of the people with the strange ideas is kind of offensive. It's like sneering at us for getting worked up over nothing. The notion that we might be angry about the crimes justified by these strange beliefs is also rather offensive. Piglucci may think this is all really sort of a game he plays as he climbs the academic ladder but some of us really have strong feelings about public affairs. Piglucci has already made it plain he considers decorum more important than reality, but honestly, the point bears repetition. Lastly, there are those of us who have a hobby of trying to put together a model of the world. As a professional philosopher, Piglucci is professionally rewarded for dissing such aspirations. No doubt it is incomprehsible to a climber whose reward is rather worldly success that the feeling of understanding is about as close to a feeling of power that many of us will ever have. We are, each of us, Gods when we play with our model of the universe. (Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator playing with the globe!) Professor Piglucci, the Public Philosopher, doesn't even want us to be permitted that much! We are to have nothing, not even dreams.

What kind of a man finds his feelings about proper decorum so important he attacks so many?

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