Drinking Crow

by rsbakker

Aphorism of the Day: To assume knowledge is to avoid it.

Pooched from drinking last night, but I thought I should post on just how wrong I was regarding the panel I mentioned yesterday. What I had thought was supposed to be a panel selling the virtues of the humanities to career wary undergrads, was actually a panel discussing the kinds of informal career opportunities that are possible for humanities grads. ‘Critical thinking’ wasn’t even mentioned. And my own peculiar brand of cynicism was definitely not what the doctor ordered. The audience actually consisted of a bunch of worried kids. Believe it or not, I found myself spouting a number of feel good homilies – as best as I could manage. “Confusion does not equal doom!” is one that I remember.

Now I find myself troubled by my glib prognostication: not that it was wrong, simply because these things often do turn out the way I expect, but because of the arrogance it implied, and the unconscious strategy that seemed to motivate it. In retrospect, the cognitive habit seems ironclad simply for being so effortless: the habit of caricaturing those you resent and pretend to feel superior to.

Watching Transcendent Man reminded me of one of the things that motivated my development of Kellhus way back when. What I wanted to show was the way comparative differences in intellectual ability completely transform and distort the relationships between individuals. More specifically, the way freedom seems to be a function of ignorance. The idea was to use Kellhus as a cipher for artificial intelligence, to show how humanity could very well be in the process of devising their own enslavement. (I’m pretty sure I was reading Metamagical Themas at the time).

We all experience this “Volition Framing Effect” all the time when we observe our friends repeating patterns of behaviour they are utterly oblivious to. They think they’re unconstrained, the undisputed master of the their acts, while we know full well that they’re cycling through some kind of neurotic program. One of the signature differences between the first and third persons is the way the former reinforces the very sense of freedom that the latter seems to erode or problematize. What I’m suggesting here, and what I try to demonstrate via Kellhus in my fantasy series, is the way this  ‘erosion of volition’ turns on the intelligence of the observer. This is why the ‘worldborn’  in the Three Seas seem like children to Kellhus: from his vantage, they are continually ‘acting out.’

The kind of bias I was exhibiting yesterday, I think, turns on an exagerration of this effect, a kind of ‘Framing Bias,’ where what you do, quite simply, is make meat-puppets out of potential out-group competitors, see them as simply acting out some implausibly simplistic ideology or the like. This strikes me as yet one more way in which the presumption short-circuits the possibility of knowing.

And leads to the kind of self-serving error I committed yesterday.