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I believe that black holes exists. I believe it because I saw shows about it on TV. I believe it because Wikipedia says that they exist. I've never verified it using any form of telescopes or whatever devices that were used to identify evidences for black holes.

Does that make me a social metaphysician?

Or, in order to be one, I need to take the additional step of clinging onto my belief that black hole exists even when there are evidences that says that they are something else entirely? That it's not a black hole that produced the measurements detected by previous scientists but something else entirely. To be a social metaphysician, I need to have actually evaded reality and ignore contradictions just because of what other people say.

asked Aug 02 '12 at 03:53

Humbug's gravatar image


edited Aug 02 '12 at 11:12

My understanding on the details here is a bit weak, but I don't believe I've ever read that Ayn Rand suggested we all need advanced degrees in physics and particle accelerators in our back-yards to avoid being social metaphysicians.

(Aug 02 '12 at 17:22) Jason Gibson ♦ Jason%20Gibson's gravatar image

No. Rand never said that. However, I can't help but recognize that a lot of my knowledge about reality is a result of what other people say it is and not what I've discovered/verified personally for myself.

(Aug 02 '12 at 19:03) Humbug Humbug's gravatar image

Implicitly, the topic of this question is the virtue of independence, and how learning from others can be consistent with that virtue. One of the best discussions of the virtue of independence that I know of can be found in OPAR, Chapter 8, "Virtue," subsection titled, "Independence as a Primary Orientation to Reality, Not to Other Men" (pp. 251-259). On p. 252, OPAR quotes a statement by Howard Roark in The Fountainhead as follows (in part):

The basic need of the creator is independence. The reasoning mind ... demands total independence in function and in motive. To a creator, all relations with men are secondary.

The baic need of the second-hander is to secure his ties with men in order to be fed. He places relations first.

OPAR continues (pp. 251-252):

The independent man who lives in society learns from others and may choose to work jointly with them, but the essence of his learning and his work is the process of thought, which he has to perform alone. He needs others with whom to trade, but the trade is merely an exchange of creations, and his primary concern is the act of creating; his concern for his own work.... He may receive approval from others, but others are not the source of his self-esteem; he esteems himself, then enjoys receiving approval only when he independently approves of the approvers. This kind of man gains many values from mankind and offers many values in return; but mankind is not his motor, his sustainer, or his purpose. [...]

... the second-hander, ... having detached himself from the realm of existence, has no standard by which to judge others; he has no way to know whose ideas to follow, whose behavior to copy, whose favor to curry.... The result is most people's desperate need for an authority, religious or secular, who will take over their lives, make their value-judgments, and tell them what to do. The independent man will refuse any such role, but the worst second-hander of all, the power-luster, is eager to accept it. Thereafter, he destroys everyone, including himself.

Ayn Rand also points out, in TOE (VOS Chap. 1, pp. 35-36 in the Signet paperback edition):

The two great values to be gained from social existence are: knowledge and trade. Man is the only species that can transmit and expand his store of knowledge from generation to generation; the knowledge potentially available to man is greater than any one man could begin to acquire in his own lifespan; every man gains an incalcularble benefit from the knowledge discovered by others.

OPAR further explains (p. 256):

... independence does not mean rediscovering on one's own the sum of human cognition. The ability to profit from the thinking of others is the time-saver that makes human progress possible. One should, therefore, learn as much as he can from others. The moral point is that he actually be learning, i.e., engaged in a process of cognition, not of parroting.

Applying this to black holes, an independent thinker (in my understanding) would not simply stare blankly and repeat, like a parrot, "black holes exist," just because some "authority figure" (like President Obama, perhaps, or someone else if he falls short of one's vision of a "trusted authority") writes it on a whiteboard. He would ask questions, such as: what, exactly, is a "black hole"? How do you know they exist, or could exist? What is your evidence and reasoning? Has any other expert in the field looked at that evidence and reasoning independently and reached similar conclusions? If so, who -- and what are his professional and academic qualifications to be regarded as an "expert"? It may be useful to think of this approach as "active learning," in contrast to mental passivity.

A second-hander might ask how many others believe the same idea, and to what degree of emotional vigor. Are the people who are expressing that idea important people? Do they have broad influence, power, and recognition in the society? Etc.

For more information on black holes, the topic of "Black hole" in Wikipedia seems to provide a very good overview, as far as I would know, not being an expert in that subject myself. An article of that kind, complete with abundant references for further verification and study, is certainly not an appeal to authority. In fact, "black hole" is one of those concepts in modern physics that no one could ever make much use of if one were to try to "believe" in it "on faith," i.e., passively rather than by "active learning."

In contrast, imagine the frowns and possibly scoldings one will receive from religious "authorities" if one asks too many questions about who or what "God" refers to, why a newborn infant bears a burden of guilt for which it must learn to atone, and so on. Such disapproval is devastating to a second-hander, and the relief of acceptance by a group of others is an irresistible elixir to him, which he gladly seeks without a further thought about any independent cognitive judgment of his own.

answered Aug 03 '12 at 02:55

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦

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Asked: Aug 02 '12 at 03:53

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Last updated: Aug 03 '12 at 02:55