Stephen Fry

 
Greg Rogers
 
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Greg Rogers
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21 May 2021 16:59
 

It strikes me that a huge blind spot in Sam’s world view is that it doesn’t account for the significance of narrative.  He addresses rationalism and empiricism but ignores the salience of story.  Stephen Fry is also an atheist with a somewhat different view.  See below.

Thoughts?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fFFSKedy9f4&t=1256s

 
weird buffalo
 
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weird buffalo
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21 May 2021 21:37
 

I dispute the idea that there are “truths” to be found within story and narrative.  But my contention is in a way very nitpicky.  I would suggest that the better word is “meaning”.

To me, “truth” better describes the reality of the world that we share.  It cannot change from one person to the next, because if it changes than it is by definition not “truth”.  2+2=4 (except for very large values of 2) is true regardless of your perspective.  The association of chocolate chip cookies with love is not a “truth”.

“Meaning” is the value and purpose of things in our lives.  To this end, story and narrative can convey a great deal of meaning.  If you grew up in a loving household where you were greeted with chocolate chip cookies, then the smell of them can convey great meaning to you.  To this end, religion has ascribed meaning to a great many things.  Almost none of it is actually true though, and anything that is true is probably part of nearly every religion (and many things that are not religion).

Of course, some “meaning” can be “true”, but if that is so, we can verify it outside of stories.  Often times it isn’t true though.

I will say that when Jordan Peterson says that “science is nested in a narrative structure” (at the 23:00 mark) is essentially the same overall claim of Foucault.  Foucault was pointing this out so that we could dismantle the power structure behind this narrative, but Peterson (outside of this video) instead seems to be proposing that we should further this endeavor and deepen the power structure.  It’s just a structure based on a story (which has meaning, but not truth).

 
Greg Rogers
 
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22 May 2021 16:46
 

Thanks for this, some interesting thoughts.  I might unpack it a bit further…

We could ask if “meaning” is good.  We might answer yes.  In which case, if narratives provide meaning, then narratives are good.  Of course, we could be wrong about which narratives that provide meaning or ought to provide meaning or those which provide the most “well-being”.  Presumably we should accept the narratives which contribute to well-being.

However, it is not clear that the narratives which contribute well-being need to be “true”.  If there is a conflict, who wins?

Methinks this is almost the crux of the debate between Harris and Peterson: Harris says “truth” and Peterson says “narratives / meaning”.

Thoughts?

I think another point of difference between Foucault and Peterson is that Peterson aligns power with competence.  Don’t believe Foucault does that…. and Foucault had rather “usual” sexual appetites… to say the least.

 

 
weird buffalo
 
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weird buffalo
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22 May 2021 18:51
 

I wouldn’t ascribe the concept of “meaning” as good or bad.  It just is.  Nazi’s told a narrative of Jews being their enemy.  This narrative was very powerful and allowed a country going through significant hardships to rally around the government and nearly conquer Europe.  I’m pretty sure most of us would agree that the bulk of their “meaning” was quite negative.  It didn’t contribute to overall well-being of either Germany, Europe, or pretty much anyone in the long run, though it was an incredibly powerful force in the short term.

Religious conservatives oppose LGBT rights on the basis that granting those rights would violate the “meaning” of things like the concept of marriage and traditional families.  Of course, they themselves are reliant on a “meaning” of those things that certainly relates to their historical precedent, but are also currently concepts that are far removed from what they were 400 years ago (let alone further back in time).  In fact, in many ancient periods there was no “meaning” ascribed to certain forms of sexuality.  In ancient Greece and Rome a wide-array of sexualities were considered mainstream that in the 1950’s had to be hidden underground which suggests that the different cultures ascribed vastly different “meaning” to those sexual behaviors.

This is why I think separating “truth” from “meaning” is valuable in this discussion.  “Meaning”  is an incredibly powerful motivational and organizational tool.  “Truth” just is.  People can be incredibly motivated and organized behind lies because those lies have great “meaning”.  That doesn’t make the “meaning” true, since definitionally we’ve already identified those things as lies.

“Truth” has great value as well.  The rise of modern science demonstrates that a greater understanding of “truth” produces ever greater capacity to accomplish tasks in the world.  The more one understands the actual nature of reality, the more one can navigate it and make it bend to your will.  But your will is going to be defined by the “meaning” that you assign to things.

 
Greg Rogers
 
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24 May 2021 14:40
 

I think I look at it somewhat differently.  Meaning isn’t “just is” in the sense that a person can lack it; search for it, etc.  I might analogize to food.  Food is good; food is necessary for well-being.  Meaning is good; meaning is necessary for well-being.  However, just as there is “bad food” or “bad” ways to consume it, there are bad ways to obtain meaning.  If we accept the proposition that there is moral truth, then any “meaning” which results in a decrease in well-being would be immoral even thought “meaning” itself is good just as food is good. 

I think we should also recognize the distinction between “taste” and “truth”.  I can say that you “ought” to eat food as a matter of well-being.  I can’t say that you should eat German and not Italian as a matter of taste.  Hence, I think that some narratives and avenues to meaning are merely a matter of taste.

Of course the devil is in the details.  Truth vs taste, well-being, etc.

 
weird buffalo
 
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weird buffalo
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24 May 2021 15:42
 

Yup, that’s probably a better way of putting it.  The concept of “meaning” isn’t necessarily good or bad, but it’s what we do with it.  I do think it’s important that “meaning” can be negative.  If we build a negative narrative about ourselves and it leads us to having a poor self-esteem, that is going to negatively impact our lives.  Even if this narrative is based largely on true things, placing it in a more negative narrative will increase the impact it has on a person’s life.  A great example of this would be how a person suffering from depression would build their self-image.

Conversely, “truth” is always of some utilitarian value.  Sometimes it is very indirect or of very miniscule utility.  And the amount of utility can vary depending on perspective.  The baseline though is that something that is true at the very least increases our understanding of the world around us.  Let’s say we learn something true about the life-cycle of ants.  To the average person it will be of little value.  A curious fact that increases their base level of understanding about the world, but little more.  To someone who studies ants, or works in the field of pest-control, that information can be far more useful.  It could lead to either job efficiency or provide the basis for deeper understanding to a new discovery.  The value of this “truth” is effectively multiplied by the “meaning” assigned to it.

 
Nhoj Morley
 
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Nhoj Morley
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26 May 2021 08:29
 

Stories and mythology were colossal achievements of continuity. When we learned to test our fictions, science became a colossal achievement of continuity.

Now, with our modern education and lifestyle, we are colossal achievements of continuity. We self-narrate our thinking and wonder what all the fuss was about.

Fry and Peterson delivered impressive demonstrations of continuity of context. We would expect no less. The lads are professionals who can be followed for ninety minutes without a drum machine. I never heard them use the word lyrical or anything that would suggest they have any notion of what a strong and capable mind would be like without a talent for continuity. That’s what the drum machine is for.

I would agree with the OP and go as far as to assert that all these high-end lads are blind to the significance of narrative. They know it is significant but they struggle with why. It is a result of being very educated. Once we’re baffled by morons and even each other, we’ve arrived.