Truth through experimentation

Hacker News Dialogue on Nietzsche

This is a series of comments made on Hacker News discussing an article titled Friedrich Nietzsche: The Truth is Terrible.

dnomad on July 1, 2018 [-]

Leiter tends to take Nietzsche very literally. Yes, Nietzsche grasped quite clearly that exceedingly few people have the courage to endure the world “in itself.” Most people persist their whole lives trapped in elaborate fantasies. This is something that, Nietszche suspects, has been true since the dawn of time and recognizes it as an essential human characteristic (herd instinct).

Science causes a kind of crisis. (“God is dead.”) After millenia of extreme devotion to all manner nonsense (think of the religious wars that plagued Europe) science starts asking some very uncomfortable and very pointed questions. But people will not abandon their fantasies, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Instead they will cling to their fantasies that much harder often with full knowledge that what they “believe” are lies. This metastasizes into fascism [1]. When Trump says climate change is a Chinese hoax he knows he’s lying, and you know he’s lying, and accusing him of lying would be pointless and that’s the point. Nietzsche foresaw quite clearly that this would be the crisis of the 20th century and beyong: in the face of science people would become more willing to deceive themselves.

What Nietzsche proposes against this isn’t some tired paean to “human excellence.” Leiter here gets very literal and selective here. Nietzsche does not think that art or philosophy or dance can stand against the ever rising tide of fascism. It is what motivates these things – the will to power – that is the only defense against self-deception. All fantasies are born of fear, a fear of change and growth and death. But there also exists in some men a desire for change and growth and death. (Indeed Nietzsche will come to believe that the will to power is a kind of cosmic necessity.) The only hope that societies have against falling to fascism is cultivating precisely this opposing force which Nietzsche understands not as some mere “will to truth” or “will to excellence” but a far more primal “will to power” that motivates men to plunge into the unknown and confront their own mortality.

[1] “In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true. … Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow. The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.”

[1] Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (pt 3)

yonoataraxia on July 1, 2018 [-]

This is a great analysis of Nietzsche. It’s rare to find people who really understand what he’s trying to say. Many people interpret him in inaccurate ways. Essentially, Nietzsche is a person who touches very sensitive parts of being human after he analyzed society. He is a person who asked uncomfortable questions about existence in his quest to describe nihilism. Nihilism is the consequence of the loss of morality and the total annihilation of ones values and belief system - and the loss of morality stems from the “death of god” which means that we got to the point (in science) where there were exceedingly small areas of unknowns. Many questions - also about right and wrong - were suddenly more informed due to increasing knowledge.

What makes Nietzsche great is his ability to foresee what this leads to. It’s like he knew what will happen in the future. And he tried to give us a solution using “will to power”. I’m not necessarily a fan of his solution, but I appreciate it. He’s a man who had a positive attitude towards people and society. He wanted to help society. This deep empathy based on insane levels of self-awareness and profundity is what I like about him. Unfortunately, his ideas were not understood properly and used by fascists (the “master race” of the Nazis is built on the definition of ubermensch a.k.a. superman). Which is the reason I really appreciate your comment.

I think that “will to power” is one of many possible solutions. But everyone has to find a solution for the big deep hole of emptiness in their existence. Failing to find a solution leads to nihilism which is a very painful and unpleasant place to be (although it has the advantage that you don’t have to take responsibilities - for some people this can feel better than dealing with their emptiness). If we as a society fail to help to give people different solutions for this emptiness, it will lead to a society full of unhappy people who are in quiet despair. We can see that this is already happening.

So Nietzsche talked about a question that hit us hard 100 years after his death. Sometimes we acknowledge when sci-fi authors were able to predict the future. I would like to acknowledge that Nietzsche was able to anticipate our reality based on his knowledge of human nature. In the same realm I would like to thank Sigmund Freud - both shared similar thoughts about the human nature which shows that Nietzsche was also a type of psychologist (before it was a distinct research field). Sigmund Freud once articulated his admiration for Nietzsches work and said that Nietzsches thoughts were amazing in that they captured many thoughts that Freud thought to be true due to his works in psychoanalysis.

ThJ on July 1, 2018 [-]

My takeaway from witnessing countless arguments about Nietzsche: Nietzsche wasn’t very good at expressing what he meant. If he were, there wouldn’t be so much arguing about how to interpret his works.

bsenftner on July 1, 2018 [-]

I always felt he was extremely articulate, and it is the typical readers preconceived filters preventing them from understanding Nietzsche sentence by sentence. I have sat down with an unbelievably large number of people studying Nietzsche, as I was a teaching assistant for an undergraduate class on his work. Time and time again, I would be pointing out the basic, fundamental misunderstandings; The world view of the typical American Christian cloud their ability to think clearly about the basic nature of Nietzsche’s perspective. They literally can’t think logically straight, and bend meaning word by word with personal emotional criticism interlaced with “fear for their soul”. They are intellectually handicapped, their thoughts are so interlaced with variations of fear.

yonoataraxia on July 1, 2018 [-]

I think it’s ok. When they would instantly understand Nietzsche, it’s very likely they already had major depressive episodes in their lives. Otherwise it’s difficult to question everything you thought you knew about anything. Normally it’s not a pleasant experience. That is the reason that so-called enlightenment happens only to those who had big inner struggles after many years of reflection.

In a Freudian way their unconscious side protects them from threats attacking their mental health. Knowing what’s right and wrong is necessary to do anything with reason. If you accept the fact that there is no right and wrong, you can definitely lose some motivation which is detrimental to the incentive system that our consciousness gets trained with.

It’s therefore rational for most people to reject those ideas (although they don’t necessarily can reflect on this level). I wouldn’t call it “intellectually handicapped”, I would say their mental processes protect them very well from thoughts that could lead to a loss of their values and belief system. Otherwise it sounds so negative although it’s a rational thing to do for the consciousness. Normally your incentive system is not “I want to know the whole damn truth”, it’s “I want a happy and fulfilled life, want to feel good about myself and achieve something”. Cognitive biases help us to achieve those goals. It just seems irrational from external point of views because of missing profundity in the analysis of the psyche of the other person. They’re perfectly logical w.r.t. the incentive system.

StevenRayOrr on July 1, 2018 [-]

The struggle here, not that this contradicts anything you’ve said, is how easily this turns into a fetishization of unhappiness or suffering: Lincoln’s depression as a cost for his genius (or Beethoven’s, as the article talks about). It is a sort of bastardization of Faulkner’s point about how “Ode on a Grecian Urn” is worth any number of old ladies: “The Gettysburg Address” is worth any number of depressive episodes. Which maybe it is to us, but was it worth it to Lincoln? If we believe that suffering is valuable for the excellence of humanity (not just for individual human beings), it seems to justify a political system that actively neglects the welfare of its citizens. To say nothing of the intellectual dishonesty of claims that suffering builds character when said from the vantage point of those who can choose not to suffer.

In the end, I actually think Nietzsche’s political philosophy is wholly compatible with something resembling the modern welfare state: insofar as we can understand suffering to be valuable, it is only so when it is an active, human choice. Those forced into such a position may find themselves closer to “the whole damn truth”, but only incidentally. And human experience is rooted in the choosing. The power of Martin Luther’s oft-(mis)attributed “Here I stand, I can do no other” is not in its truth – he obviously could have done otherwise, but he chose not to. Without the capacity to make those decisions for ourselves, to be allowed to decide that truth is worth the loss of happiness, achievement, fulfillment, we are never ourselves truly human. That some (many? most?) may decide the ‘easier’ path of herd morality doesn’t change this: we are, by virtue of our humanity, able to elect not to be human. That so many do is a tragedy, yes, but an understandable one; and the possibility and fact of this tragedy gives meaning to the choice itself.

yonoataraxia on July 1, 2018 [-]

How much suffering are we able to endure before giving up? I think a lot, because most of us have the desire to live. So I agree that people in power positions should realize that they should give real choices to powerless people on their own. They have to realize that they are self-delusional when they say “Just work hard and you can become one of us”. I think most of them truly don’t realize how self-delusional this phrase really is because their own experiences confirm their beliefs (they were able to work hard and achieve something). So I don’t think that most of them are purposely intellectually dishonest but just lack awareness.

Without the capacity to make those decisions for ourselves, to be allowed to decide that truth is worth the loss of happiness, achievement, fulfillment, we are never ourselves truly human.

I like the small discussion about being human, although I can’t agree with the position that we’re “truly human” because of our ability to choose. This is a philosophical and subjective question, but basically I think that humans can have inherent value (based on ones belief system) even if we would find all the mechanisms in their decision making process and can predict what they do. I think that humans can be “truly human” even if we find out that free will is an illusion. I believe this, because “being human” is a definition made by humans and it wouldn’t be very helpful to see ourselves as worthless just because we don’t have real choices (using the assumption that free will is an illusion here - this doesn’t mean that I necessarily think it is). It can be that people see humans as worthless, but they don’t need the “ability to make choices” as an excuse for their misanthropy, beliefs or nihilism. There are many ways to achieve that.

Therefore it’s likely that you’ll change your definition of being human (and their inherent value) as soon as research shows us that free will and choices are mostly illusions because our thoughts are based on deterministic processes.

StevenRayOrr on July 2, 2018 [-]

So I don’t think that most of them are purposely intellectually dishonest but just lack awareness. Some days I feel this charitable. Others not. Usually I suspect they’re too intelligent for a lack of awareness to be a good enough excuse: there comes a point where ignorance becomes willful. Then again, this is precisely the problem we’re talking about here: when our cognitive biases are so comfortable that our brains erect strong defenses to keep intruders out.

I probably should have avoided being categorical with my comments on choice. While the capacity for such a choice appears to be unique to the human being, I am not entirely convinced it is, but that has more to do with intuitions about nonhuman minds rather than any sort of certainty. However I am incredibly cautious about the kind of research into free will that you’re talking about, because, even if I doubt the inevitably of the endpoint you suggest, it remains an attempt to transform the human being into a calculation, into a process, and that reduces our affairs into mere administration. It’s one of the (productive?) contradictions in my own thought that I am constantly pushing up against: my politics are such that I see the value in that kind of bureaucratic management, but my philosophy is such that I see it as dehumanizing. There is no natural equilibrium to be had here, so our duty is one of rebalancing, of maintaining the scales between the unique capacity for human choice and ensuring the conditions of life that are necessary for our biology.

My name is Wyatt Fleming. I am a Project Manager at WebJaguar and a life-long learner interested in history, economics, gardening, and computers.