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Multiple heuristic equilibria (cognitive patchwork)

If we are living through a “semantic apocalypse,” a likely implication is that the signal-to-noise ratio in most explicit political debates is not only lower than it might seem, but asymptotically approaching zero. The differential value or accuracy of true news vs. fake news, or smart opinions vs. dumb opinions, is increasingly slim relative to their shared arbitrariness and inadequacy with respect to the complexity of our environment.

How, then, do we regenerate heuristics for our intentional cognition that are aligned with our systematic, scientific cognition?

While there is only one true reality, there exists almost an infinite number of conceptual registers in which one valid scientific model can be stated. In short, there exists an extreme nominal arbitrariness to scientific models. The register that ultimately gets selected as the recognized register is a function of intellectually non-justified criteria: social forces (e.g., marketing considerations), individual psychological forces (e.g., personality-contingent word-choice preferences).

All of this suggests to me that the most promising path at present is small-scale efforts of world-creation, in which strategically arranged social and temperamental forces are leveraged to generate novel heuristics for intentional cognition in a scientifically disciplined fashion.

“Scientifically disciplined” is very different than “scientific.” Groups can think, say, and do almost any number of things in a fashion that is scientifically disciplined, without any of it being scientific and without the different groups necessarily converging or accumulating as science does.

At the core of being scientifically disciplined is simply admitting what you don’t know, which anyone can do.

Being scientifically disciplined still permits the widest variety of the most fantastic inventions–so long as they don’t pretend to an epistemic status they do not really possess.

What this means is that we could very well see a huge number of multiple cognitive equilibria: a variety of small groups that generate radically different heuristics for thinking about each other, sustaining internal order, and productively interacting with the outside. They might sustain the flourishing of members and the health of the community equally well, with insanely different conceptual registers, behaviors, and affective tendencies. They could all be equally scientifically disciplined and therefore calibrated to the complexity of reality, with seemingly no convergence or accumulation in their “findings,” or internal wisdom.

This itself is very hard to process given our intuitions about what it means to be scientifically valid. Our intuitions about science and empirical validity make us feel like pursuing the truth and understanding how society really works should look, sound, and smell like a bunch of people trying really hard to arrive at a certain set of shared words through a difficult and combative process of testing and critiquing different individuals’ and group’s proposals or hypotheses. This is the hitherto socially selected image of science, selected due to contingent factors related to Modernity (centralized institutions, progressive metanarratives, etc.). But it is not at all what it means to live an authentic life that is scientifically disciplined. What that looks like under postmodern conditions still remains to be seen.

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