Friday, August 05, 2011

Reason

An old joke, which I have not been able to adequately source, says this: "The effective IQ of a committee is the highest individual IQ divided by the number of members." This, of course, goes against memes like the wisdom of crowds or the virtues of democracy. But that is only because it is the flip side of such memes: crowds are also mobs, and democracies can be tyrannies from a majority which might be less qualified to make decisions.

I have been in meetings at which reasonable, intelligent and articulate members have cobbled together compromises which are untenable and inadequate; at which said members seem to have consumed too many cream-puffs, which seem to have gone to their heads; at which said heads have turned to gossip-churning mush incapable of strategic planning. And thus, anecdotally, the old joke can indeed seem true.

The world has invested itself in faith of a secular kind — money, machines, meritocracy. This is not surprising, since 'secular' means 'worldly'. What is surprising even though it should not be is that this faith relies on a system of the world that could only be held together by perfect knowledge delivered without mediation — literally 'immediate' — but such a system does not exist. We have put our faith in illusion, as a Buddhist might say; the ancient Israelite would say, "He hangeth the world upon nothing."

The system has never worked, but the closest approximation of its perfect working has been to benefit of those possessing the most powerful means of attaining knowledge. Knowledge is indeed power, although its sinews might be illusion and materiel.

But nobody has perfect knowledge, and that is why, as we come asymptotically closer to that point, we teeter ever more precariously at the abyss of the catastrophe. Should we fall into it, it is not singularity we will achieve, but nullity. The sky will unfold, the scroll will unroll.

And that will be an end to reason, or any pretense at reasoning.

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