Only Sociopaths Should Make Decisions

I tried to ignore this topic. I really did. I can’t do it though. The stupidity is too overwhelming. Yesterday I saw this tweet on Twitter:

And I have to say it: Neil deGrasse Tyson, you’re an idiot.

I get the point he’s trying to make. It’s your typical militant atheistic preening, “Religious people are crazy, hah, hah.” Tyson is supposedly some brilliant scientist, and he wants people to know if you don’t share his belief system, you should be shunned and scorned.

So what is his belief system everyone should share? Does Tyson believe murder is okay? I think it’s safe to say he does not. I think it’s safe to say he’d claim murder is wrong. But what does he base that belief on? What part of objective reality determines what is “right” and “wrong”? What device do we use to measure morality in nature?

There is none. Morality is a human construct. It is a set of values people come up with based upon… something. Maybe it’s from a divine source. Maybe it’s some innate sense of right and wrong. Maybe it’s simple self-preservation. Nobody really knows. All we know is it isn’t tied to any objective measure of reality.

If “right” and “wrong” aren’t based in a measure of objective reality, according to Neil deGrasse Tyson, anyone who believes in them “should not be making decisions that affect other people.” If you believe rape is innately wrong, you shouldn’t be allowed to run for office, be a teacher or raise a child. According to Tyson, if you want to do any of those things, you better say:

Eh, there’s nothing wrong with raping people for fun.

Because otherwise, you have a belief system which isn’t based in objective reality, and that’s just stupid.


Of course, as anyone with any experience with philosophy can tell you, there is no such thing as objective reality. We can’t tell that other people see things we see the way we see them. We can’t even tell other people exist. Everything we see could be some virtual reality simulation fed into our brains by a machine.
In the strictest sense, we can’t even be certain we exist at all. The thought processes we ascribe to ourselves could merely be output of some machine. Or they could simply not exist at all. We can’t prove we’re thinking by thinking as that assumes the point being proven.

This sort of thought process doesn’t really get us anywhere. It is rarely worth dwelling on. For practical purposes, we have to assume there is an objective reality. This is still just an assumption though, and it is inherently no more logical than assuming a divine entity exists.

The reason this matters is it shows atheists like Neil deGrasse Tyson necessarily rely upon faith (by assuming something to be true) even as they ridicule it. That Tyson’s tweet, taken to its logical end, would require only sociopaths be in positions of responsibility is mildly amusing. That people like Tyson can’t even acknowledge their own form of faith is very troubling.

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29 comments

  1. ==> “Neil deGrasse Tyson, you’re an idiot.”

    Yes. Neil deGrasse Tyson is an idiot. What he says “doesn’t make sense.”

  2. Joshua, I informed you of a decision regarding moderation. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you didn’t see it before making this comment.

    But that’s the last time I will. After this, if you make a comment which is clearly not intended to be contributory/topical, I’ll put you in moderation.

  3. Brandon –

    It was topical. Am critiquing your logic. I’m saying that you are drawing highly implausible conclusions. I’m pointing out that you have a flawed reasoning process.

    Neil deGrasse Tyson is not likely an “idiot.” He’s not likely a halfwit. An ignoramus. A dunce. A cretin. A moron. An imbecile. A simpleton.

    Perhaps you are misinterpreting his tweet. Maybe you just disagree with his opinion. Not everyone who doesn’t share opinions with you is an “idiot.”

    Maybe you should consider what leads you to call so many people “idiots.” Maybe you should reflect on why you so often think that what people say “doesn’t make sense.”

    This is all on topic. I am contributing to the discussion by asking you to reflect a bit on how obviously flawed your thinking is. If you think that criticizing your logic is a reason to put me in moderation – have at it. It’s your blog. You have the hammer. But don’t claim that the reason is because my comment is not topical. It is.

  4. Joshua, your comment said none of that. You just made a couple snarky/snide comments and apparently expected people to guess at their meaning. That is not an acceptable form of comment from you at this point.

    Moreover, to be clear about my moderation statement, I am not requiring you just say something tangentially related to the topic you post in. At this point, you must address something the post says in a direct manner in order to be allowed to continue to comment. I am not going to play games with you so you can waste everyone’s time finding ways to repeat the same general points over and over just by changing a few words and claiming it’s topical.

    If you wish to disagree with what I say in this post, directly address the logic offered in the post. Nothing else will be tolerated.

  5. It looks like Tyson is not using the term ‘objective reality’ literally, but using it as a stand-in for his world view. It is an illegitimate way of preempting argument and slighting anyone who does not hold his political views. This is a similar practice to the use of the more general terms ‘science’ or ‘climate change’ to refer to the particular theory of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming.

  6. Brandon, your comment to Joshua mirrors ATTP’s approach.

    I tried to follow your post above but I failed. Does that mean you are an idiot?

    You ask:

    What device do we use to measure morality in nature?

    There is none. Morality is a human construct. […]

    This question was posed and answered elegantly, and given possibly the most correct answer by Friedrich Nietzsche: On the Genealogy of Morals

  7. It is a puzzling statement: *an* objective reality? Are there a whole bunch of them?

    Anyway, in my objective reality only an idiot would wear a moustache like that.

    But seriously, I think it’s a bit of a stretch to say that there is no coherent philosophy which allows for objective reality. Eg: being a Platonist doesn’t necessarily mean you’re insane.

  8. Throgmorton., you might be right. I decided to assume otherwise because it’s the most charitable interpretation. Under your interpretation, there isn’t even a pretense of justification for his comment.

    Shub Nigguarth:

    Brandon, your comment to Joshua mirrors ATTP’s approach.

    No, it really does not. I require Joshua be topical, something he rarely is, because as it stands he just spams and trolls a lot. Even then, I’m being very generous with him. Anders’s approach is nothing like that.

    I tried to follow your post above but I failed. Does that mean you are an idiot?

    No, and you sound pretty silly suggesting so. I had no problem understand Neil deGrasse Tyson’s remark. I understood it, and I explained why it was wrong. I then used that justification to call him an idiot.

    You being unable to understand what I say means you can’t explain why what I said is wrong, thus meaning you have no such justification to call me an idiot.

    In other words, a failure on the part of the reader does not justify insulting the writer.

  9. szilard, I noticed that, but I didn’t comment on it because typos in tweets are easy to make. I assume he just didn’t mean to include “an.”

    As for objective reality, it is inherently true all proofs must begin with an assumption. That’s true whether the proof is mathematical, philosophical or something else. It’s a simple matter of logic the first statement in any proof is unproven.

    This doesn’t mean Platonists or anyone else are insane. It merely means all beliefs require a measure of faith.

  10. Twitter irritates me. It’s mostly a means of shouting fire in a virtual crowded theater just to see who will stampede.

    Brandon, even if our perceptions were merely the output of some machine, they would “exist” although not as we might think they do. Existence is unprovable in the sense that there’s no deeper premise from which to derive a proof. In the end, self-evidence is the best we can do.

  11. Gary, I think Twitter has a lot of valuable uses. It’s like most tools. It can be used for good or bad.

    As for our perceptions, I agree they would “exist” if they were merely the output of a machine, but they would not “exist” as thoughts. They would not exist as consciousness indicating the entity you or I consider to be ourselves exists. Different code could be fed into a machine and output as our perceptions, and we’d never be able to tell the difference.

    In the end, self-evidence is the best we can do.

    Yup. And as indicated by the “self-” portion of the phrase, the best we can do is subjective.

  12. In other words, a failure on the part of the reader does not justify insulting the writer.

    Does this apply to you?

    Immediately following Tyson’s tweet, you wrote: “I get the point he’s trying to make. It’s your typical militant atheistic preening, “Religious people are crazy, hah, hah.” I did not get that point from the tweet. I did not get anything about atheism or God from the tweet.

  13. Shub Niggurath, I have no idea how you interpreted that tweet then. Not only is my interpretation an obvious one, it is also perfectly in line with the many things Neil deGrasse Tyson has said about religion in the past.

    How did you interpret it, and why?

  14. ” It’s your typical militant atheistic preening,”

    Dont know if it true, but I just read that he’s an agnostic.

    “it is also perfectly in line with the many things Neil deGrasse Tyson has said about religion in the past.”

    Well, there is this…

    http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&cd=6&ved=0CCkQtwIwBQ&url=http%3A%2F%2Fm.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3D5xvILvxYbFA&rct=j&q=Neil%20deGrasse%20Tyson%20on%20religion&ei=D0obVJuaDcuZyAS69YKwBA&usg=AFQjCNEYWgIC4lM9haZE-Ea4EjBv9-mMIA&bvm=bv.75774317,d.aWw

    Of course, when you have the wisdom to understand that what people believe is what you interpret rather than what they say, you dont have to bother with what tbey say to determine what they believe, right?

  15. Joshua, posting links without adding content is not posting in a constructive manner. Given the warnings I’ve already given you about moderation, I’m not going to bother going into more detail. I’m now placing you in moderation. If you need an explanation of what that entails, you can read what that means here.

    Also, I edited the last comment because the embedded video was displaying at an inappropriate size.

  16. ” I have no idea how you interpreted that tweet.”

    Of course. Why would you? I haven’t said anything about it.

    I don’t know much about Tyson or his atheism. I read the tweet for what it is.

    A while back I read the story about how Amazonian tribal farmers (I want to say) decide on which plot to practice farming. The Amazon overgrowth covers the land thickly. The farmers need to clear the land before they plant crops. The farmers, the researcher learned, had elaborate and intricate methods for deciding which little part of the forest to burn down to clear the land. But it turned these methods were nothing but meaningless ritualistic practices, no better or worse than coin-tosses. The farmers practiced complicated superstition with the ostensible claim that the rituals, which had no connection to objective reality of crop success or failure, could guide their hand in decision-making. In other words, the huge burden of dietary needs of the tribe rested on a belief system that had no demonstrable connection to reality.

    That’s what comes to my mind when I read Tyson’s tweet.

    Steve Jobs followed the advice of alternative medicine practitioners and tried

    fruit juices
    acupuncture
    herbal remedies
    vegan diet

    to treat his pancreatic tumor.

    Clearly a case of ‘belief system is not founded in an objective reality’. You could argue Jobs was not just a patient or human being with a disease but a company head impacting the livelihoods of ‘other people’. Do you think drinking juice to cure cancer when the fortunes of so many people were entrusted in his leadership and celebrity status makes Jobs an idiot?

  17. Shub Niggurath:

    I don’t know much about Tyson or his atheism. I read the tweet for what it is.

    But apparently refuse to say how you read it? You gave a couple examples that would fit his tweet, but you didn’t bother to actually give an interpretation of that tweet.

    I find it strange when people tell me my interpretation is wrong yet refuse to explain what part of the logic I provide to justify it is wrong. I’m kind of tempted to just respond, “Don’t be Joshua.”

  18. Shub Niggurath, you said:

    Immediately following Tyson’s tweet, you wrote: “I get the point he’s trying to make. It’s your typical militant atheistic preening, “Religious people are crazy, hah, hah.” I did not get that point from the tweet. I did not get anything about atheism or God from the tweet.

    Which indicates you interpreted the tweet very differently than I did. I guess you can say indicating you have a different interpretation doesn’t say my interpretation is wrong, but that’s a minor point. You clearly thought it said something different than I what I thought it said.

  19. I said I got nothing about God or religion from the tweet. You got such things from the tweet.

    You interpreted the tweet in light of the person making it, and his history and background.

    I just read the words.

    It is evident there are belief systems that have no connection to objective reality. I gave you two examples – mundane, simple ones. The sleight of hand in Mr. Tyson’s clever little ditty lies in hiding the fact that determining what constitutes ‘objective reality’ is not easy. With a tumor, it is easy. What about other, deeper questions? You are absolutely right to pick on Tyson for the trick.

    I think there’s a further layer. What if you had a system ‘deeply connected to objective reality’ that guided your decision making? Could one possibly use such a system, assured that it gives the best possible answers impacting for other people, especially for lots of them? I believe the answer is ‘No’. Completely random but light-touch interventions and turns are probably better than committed boxed-in decisions, regardless of the content of the decisions themselves.

  20. Shub Niggurath, I didn’t interpret that tweet in light of anything about Neil deGrasse Tyson. Prior to seeing it, I had no idea what his views on religion were. It’s just undeniable religious views are a subject of his tweet.

    It’s true other views are a subject of it as well, but the fact I didn’t discuss everything Tyson’s tweet covered doesn’t change that it is obvious his tweet covered many religious views.

    As for your question, there’s no way to answer it as we can’t posit an objective system which “gives the best possible answers impacting for other people.” The very nature of “best” is subjective. I’m not sure it changes your point though.

  21. Tyson’s tweet makes perfect sense to me. I can however render it meaningless and idiotic by focusing on one term “objective reality”. To do this
    I focus on the term and then I interpret it as if it were a philosophical statement. Now surely we see discussion of “objective reality” in philosophy
    but that’s no guarentee that Tyson means it philosophically. I hope you wont see me do this trick. Moving on, If I force it to be philosophical, then I can make arguments about “objective reality” in philosophy. I can claim, feigning certainty, that there is no objective reality. (If I were really clever I might deny that Tyson even exists. In any case one wonders if its an objective reality that he is an idiot.)

    Having turned Tyson’s statement into a statement about philosophy, having changed his topic to my topic, it is easy to show that he is an idiot.
    Just as easy as I can show that I’m a brain in vat. We call this misunderstanding on purpose.

    But is Tyson making a philosophical statement? In short, is that an objective reality. Well, he’s using words we see in philosophy, we can of course make a silly philosophical argument about how philosophy shows he is an idiot. In the end we have a choice: Either brandon’s argument is good and he’s an idiot. Or he is obviously not an idiot and there is something wrong with brandon’s argument. Further we don’t even have to show what is wrong with Brandon’s argument to say it is wrong. Its wrong because it leads to a false conclusion. Suppose I show you a long proof that 2+2 = 5. You look at the proof and you cant find anything wrong with it. Are you compelled to say “well 2+2=5?” Nope. The very same mind that you trust to follow the steps of the proof is the mind that can look at 2+2 =5 and say “well, that’s wrong, even if I cannot find the flaw”

    This is a nice twist on “here is on hand” Suppose I give you a long philosophical arguemnt that proves that objective reality does not exist.
    To this I say “here is one hand” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Here_is_one_hand

    So, what is Tyson really saying?

    “If your belief system is not founded in an objective reality, you should not be making decisions that affect other people.” It’s a mistake to focus on what the term “objective reality” means in this statement. Rather we should focus on what Tyson is doing with words.
    What does he mean to DO with this statement. What he is doing is “ghosting” . That is, he is arguing against something he refuses to name specifically. He is trapping folks into arguing about the basis for their belief systems. Trapping them by insinuating that its not “objective” Suppose he said “If your belief system is founded in a delusion, you should not be making decisions that affect other people.”
    One suspects he would get agreement. Suppose he said “If your belief system is founded in a belief that there is no external world, you should not be making decisions that affect other people.” One suspects he would get agreement. In short,, “objective reality” just stands in for a un named collection of non delusional beliefs. And the statement also functions as a trap. He is hoping that readers will think he is saying something anti religious, or materialistic. In short, he is baiting those who believe that religion or god or spirit or crystals are the basis of morality and is hoping to draw them into a fight about whether “their god ” is an objective reality or not. That’s not being an idiot. That’s being a clever trap setter. Now if he were a proponent of scientism he would have said “If your belief system is not founded in science, you should not be making decisions that affect other people.” But he doesnt say that. That’s his way of putting some distance between himself an scientism. The term “objective reality” doesnt function as a philosophical term here ( he doesnt even define it ) rather it functions as a trap.

    The clearest way to avoid the trap is to ask a clarifying question. Dr. Tyson, when you speak of belief systems grounded in objective reality, what do you mean by objective reality? are you speaking about belief in the external world? or something else? “. In short once you understand what he is doing rather than meaning, you avoid the trap.

    Or ” Dr. Tyson, If a delusional person makes a decision to save your life, was he wrong” In short, If you believed the moon were made of green cheese and thought murder was wrong, I’d probably say you can make decisions that effects others lives.. and if you believed that evolution were true, but thought that drowning puppies was cool, you probably should not be making those decisions.

    Or you can avoid the trap by Snarking. “Tyson, If you cant quote accurately your belief system is not founded in objective reality”

    There are all sorts of ways to avoid the trap. But, the statement was a trap. It looks like an argument. But it’s not. It occupies the logical form of an argument but it is not intended to convince you. It’s intended to trap you into thinking he is attacking the foundation of your beliefs.

    It also does something else. It’s designed to allow others ( those who agree with tyson) to characterize the other as “delusional”
    Now this other is never named specifically. The other appears as a ghost. Ghosts who dont believe in “objective reality” By not defining that term
    Tyson allows people who like him and agree with him to “fill in” that ghost with people they want to call delusional.

    Disagree if you like idiots

    ( read that carefully)

  22. Steven Mosher:

    Further we don’t even have to show what is wrong with Brandon’s argument to say it is wrong. Its wrong because it leads to a false conclusion.

    Yes. If you assume the answer I gave is false, you can conclude my explanation for the answer is false. However, you’ve done nothing to show I am wrong to call Neil deGrasse Tyson an idiot. As such, all you are doing is assuming I’m wrong in order to prove I’m wrong.

    So, what is Tyson really saying?

    It’s wonderful how you claim I am wrong because Tyson isn’t an idiot then go on to offer an interpretation you do nothing to justify. We have nothing but your say-so that it is right, aside from your baseless assertion Tyson is not an idiot.

    Amusingly, you say:

    What does he mean to DO with this statement. What he is doing is “ghosting” . That is, he is arguing against something he refuses to name specifically….
    And the statement also functions as a trap. He is hoping that readers will think he is saying something anti religious, or materialistic. In short, he is baiting those who believe that religion or god or spirit or crystals are the basis of morality and is hoping to draw them into a fight about whether “their god ” is an objective reality or not. That’s not being an idiot. That’s being a clever trap setter….
    There are all sorts of ways to avoid the trap. But, the statement was a trap. It looks like an argument. But it’s not. It occupies the logical form of an argument but it is not intended to convince you. It’s intended to trap you into thinking he is attacking the foundation of your beliefs.

    It also does something else. It’s designed to allow others ( those who agree with tyson) to characterize the other as “delusional”

    Let’s suppose this were true. Is it not possible to interpret my post in a similar fashion?

    We can go with the position Mosher asserts without any basis other than his assertion of Tyson’s intelligence. In that case, we can take Tyson’s statement non-literally and my response the same way. In that case, my post is nothing but a counter trap which baits people into discussing a philosophical point and mocking Tyson rather than going after the bait he wanted people to go after.

    Or we can take Tyson’s statement and my response literally rather than just assuming Tyson is not an idiot.

  23. By the way, I find it funny Steven Mosher suggests I am intentionally misunderstanding Neil deGrasse Tyson based upon the claim Tyson intentionally made a deceptive remark. That is, Mosher claims it is a “trick” for me to interpret Tyson’s statement as he wrote it rather than assuming an ulterior motive.

    It’s a crazy world when the guy trying to trick you is not criticized, but praised, while you are criticized if you don’t assume he is trying to trick you.

  24. If you attempt deny the existence of objective reality, your attempt by itself needs to be a judgement on objective reality. You fall in a contradiction. Or better said: you effectively can’t state your denial.

  25. Daniel G., I don’t follow. One can easily deny the existence of an objective reality while accepting some level of reality. People in The Matrix could say their reality isn’t real without there being any contradiction. One doesn’t have to posit an objective reality to question a particular reality.

    More interestingly, a person can deny their own existence without contradicting themself. People sometimes argue that’s not possible because any act of denial requires existence, but that’s assuming the conclusion – that the person exists. A person who doubts their own existence necessarily doubts they have any such doubts. If their doubts are right, their doubts don’t actually exist in order to be right. Becaise their doubts don’t actually, they cannot contradict the suspicion nothing exists.

    All of this sounds silly, but it is a necessary result of any closed system. A closed system can never explain its origin point. The first statement in any logical proof is necessarily a leap of faith. The same sort of thing happens with discussions of how the universe. Many people believe the Big Bang explains the origin of physical reality, but that’s not true. Physical reality can never explain its own origin point. We can push the boundaries back to the Big Bang or even further. It doesn’t matter.

    No closed system can ever explain itself. It doesn’t matter if the system is physical, mathematical or purely logical. The first step is always a leap of faith.

  26. Austin Galante, if you are going to criticize a post, you ought to explain what is wrong with that post. Similarly, if you’re going to post a link to an article, you really ought to explain how that article supports your point (this is actually a rule of the blog). Finally, you should probably post any thoughts you might have at the new domain for this blog:

    http://www.hi-izuru.org/blog/

    Which has all the material from this domain copied over.

    With all that said, I take issue with several parts of the article you linked to, but it doesn’t matter. That article in no way contradicts anything I said in this post. It doesn’t even try.

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