Motivations for insight

24 Sep

You won’t be able to understand what the following two statements are about, because the context is missing. But never mind,  I just want you to compare their structure. The original:

Note that these concepts are invariant under the hyperbolic group. To see this, note that P is in the minor region (arc) if and only if PX crosses AB.

And a version that paraphrases something I read somewhere:

I once asked the Lord why these concepts are invariant under the hyperbolic  group. He said to me, “It’s because P is in the minor region (arc) if and only if PX crosses AB.”

To me, a contemporary scientismist in this aspect, bringing  “the Lord” into the argument weakens the validity of the statement. Even though the second version does contain all the arguments of the first one, and more, I am tempted to stop listening when “the Lord” is brought up, and throw the second statement away as rubbish.

But looking across history, I am probably in a tiny minority. I have come to think that the difference is less about valid reasoning, and more about a cultural difference in expressing what an insight is. The first version appeals to some intrinsic truth in the statement, which is found by contemplating it in the right way. The second version… does exactly the same thing, actually, with the difference that it’s formulated by and for someone to whom any truth emanates from “the Lord”. That doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with the reasoning, only that the formulation conforms to a different world view.

I still think the first version is objectively better, because it encourages the reader to execute the reasoning herself, rather than trusting an authority. It’s more difficult to get away with an unreasonable statement if it’s judged from the perspective of science than that of faith. But someone without access to the concept of modern science may still have a working brain, reason correctly (albeit possibly with a different view of what correct reasoning is), and formulate profound truths.

I believe that there is a lot of knowledge out there, whose motivation needs to be reformulated in order to make sense to modern people. Not so much about geometry, but about how people should behave to be able to live in harmony with themselves and others. Rituals, moral ideals, communion, spirituality, these notions should not be automatically discarded just because their old motivations are dated, and can seem crazy to us. They can all be extremely valuable.

We should still question them of course. Evaluate them using the sharper tools of our modern science.


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