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Reason and Intuition in science

by Unknown128 1 min read20th Dec 201918 comments

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Pbfgva Iynq Nynznevh (translate using rot13.com) who has a BA in Mathematics writes the following:

Do you imagine that men of genius or, let’s say, men of science in history walked around clear-headed, “disenchanted,” reasonable, with the tight-assed attitude of the science cultist and materialist? No great discovery has ever been made by the power of reason. Reason is a means of communicating, imperfectly, some discoveries to others, and in the case of the sciences, a method of trying to render this communication certain and precise. But no one ever made a discovery through syllogisms, through reason, through this makeshift form of transmission. Great mathematicians saw spatial relations, as great physicists saw and to some extent felt physical relations. In contemplation of mathematical forms, there is almost a physical feel of geometric relations, and all mathematicsat bottom is about geometric relations even when it doesn’t seem so. Compare the Euclidian proof of the Pythagorean theorem, based on syllogism, which helps you understand nothing that’s actually going on, with the imagistic proof of the three squares, that makes you perceive, physically perceive even in your body, why this theorem is true. Gauss, so beloved even by the tedious scientistic goblins that even Google gave him a cartoon, is famous to have said something like, “I got it…now I have to get it.” Meaning, he had seen and felt the fundamental spatial relation he was searching, but now he had to translate it into the imperfect language of mathematics for others. Thus all mathematics and all science in general—mathematics is only the prototype and most precise of the sciences—is about the definitions, not about the proof, not about the process or —absurd!—the “algorithm.” All great scientific discoveries, supposedly the great works of “reason,” are in fact the result of intuitions and sudden grasp of ideas. And all such sudden grasp and reaching is based on what, in other circumstances, would be called a kind of religious intoxication: it depends on a state of the mind where the perceiving part of the intellect is absolutely focused, limpid, yet driven by the most relentless energy, an energy to penetrate. Direct perception is already “intellectualized” and in fact much closer to the innate “intelligence” of things than cerebral syllogisms. No scientist worth anything has ever felt pride at using algorithms or trial-and-error to solve a problem.

How correct is this statement?

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A commonplace submerged in a bucket of Nietzschean romanticism. The quote is from a book, "Bronze Age Mindset: An Exhortation" by one "Bronze Age Pervert", presumably this Pbfgva Iynq Nynznevh (translate using rot13.com) "who has a BA in Mathematics". (I must wonder if this is the same person as Unknown128. ETA: judging by Unknown128's writing style in the comment he has just posted, this no longer seems likely. My apologies for identifying you as someone who is all-but-literally Hitler.)

The book can be found by searching the net for phrases taken from later in the quoted text. (Many sites have this quote or part of it, but only a few have the whole work.) Due to both the content of the work and the sort of site where it is being hosted, I will not give links and will not forward a copy. One site where I found it displayed porn popups. Another professed itself to be a place for hosting weird stuff for the lolz, and from what I briefly saw, I would not care to spend any time there.

The PDF I found is not internally searchable (though paradoxically, was Googleable) and the pages are not numbered, but the passage is in section 22 on the 25th page.

To give an idea of what sort of work this is, here are a few more quotes. Ellipses are mine, for brevity, as the PDF does not support copying. [ETA: I was using OSX Preview, which reads most PDFs, but has limitations. Adobe Acrobat Reader is able to search and copy the text.]

Near end of Prologue:

In the Bronze Age men had life and force, and I already see ... this spirit returning surely in our time. ... May they inhabit us again and give us strength to purify this world of refuse!

Sections 1 and 2:

You had in years before Trump, the fat bald gluttons of the Right put in a fighting ring against the Janet Renos, the womyn with pickup trucks, the thin-lipped transnumales of the Left. ...
Group of horses in broad plain, and the lead stallion is captured by a wild spirit, starts to gallop this way and that, and the whole herd follows in a great rush of power and freedom—Nietzsche talks about this.

Section 20:

Animals walk around in a state of permanent religious intoxication.

Presumably the same religious intoxication as is referred to in the OP a few pages later.

Section 49:

Life appears at its peak not in the grass hut village ruled by nutso mammies, but in the military state. ...
The free man is a warrior, and only a man of war is a real man.

In section 77, the final one, he foresees in language too verbose to quote, the rise of a few strong men who will leave this rotten civilisation, create their own fortresses, "develop above all their physical powers and their ability to wage war", and on occasion "send a great demagogue into the people, when this becomes necessary".

So. "Life appears at its peak in the military state." "Strength to purify this world of refuse." "A great demagogue." Where have we heard these sentiments before?

This book aspires to be the Mein Kampf of the alt-right.

This seems related to what we call locating the hypothesis. By the time you can come up with a decent hypothesis in the first place, you've already gathered most of the evidence for it.

In 1919, Sir Arthur Eddington led expeditions to Brazil and to the island of Principe, aiming to observe solar eclipses and thereby test an experimental prediction of Einstein's novel theory of General Relativity. A journalist asked Einstein what he would do if Eddington's observations failed to match his theory. Einstein famously replied: "Then I would feel sorry for the good Lord. The theory is correct." This sounds like Einstein is defying the sovereignty of experiment - jumping to conclusions in advance of the experimental data. But since Einstein was in fact right, it would be extremely improbable for him to have been right just by jumping to conclusions. Einstein must have had enough rational evidence already in hand to locate General Relativity in theory-space.

"Intuition" like that is properly understood as a form of Bayesian reasoning! To say "No great discovery has ever been made by the power of reason," is Straw Vulcan Rationality. Intuition is reasoning. And well-calibrated intuition is rational.

The converse of this, we call the fallacy of privileging the hypothesis

To see the problem of privileging the hypothesis, suppose that the police in Largeville, a town with a million inhabitants, are investigating a murder in which there are few or no clues - the victim was stabbed to death in an alley, and there are no fingerprints and no witnesses.

Then, one of the detectives says, "Well... we have no idea who did it... no particular evidence singling out any of the million people in this city... but let's consider the possibility that this murder was committed by Mortimer Q. Snodgrass, who lives at 128 Ordinary Ln."

If the detective does not have evidence already in hand to justify singling out Mortimer for such special and individual attention, then this is, or ought to be, a violation of Mortimer's civil rights.

There is a big difference between an educated guess and a shot in the dark. And that difference is evidence.

A useful counterexample is the discovery of Neptune. Neptune was discovered when astronomers noticed deviations from their predictions of Uranus' orbit, and then computed the likely orbital characteristics of a hypothetical eighth planet from those deviations. They then tested their hypothesis by turning their telescopes to the night sky, and sure enough, there was another planet out there.

More generally, I would say that it takes both. Yes, there is often a flash of inspiration, but inspiration is not enough. One still has to do the work. It's not enough to dream of a snake eating its own tail. You still have to do the crystallography to prove your inspiration correct.