Quite reasonably, Adam Laats at “I love you but you are going to Hell” asked me if I could come up with additional, less exotic examples of people using cognitive dualism than the Pakistani Dr & the Kentucky Farmer. Here’s a start…
So I was talking with Krista, the high school senior and aspiring veterinarian featured in Hermann’s “cognitive apartheid” study, about how puzzling it is to me & everyone else I know that she could get a perfect score on her evolutionary-science exam and still not believe in human evolution. She told me I should go ask her boyfriend Manny for help because he was “really good at explaining stuff.”
It turned out that Manny, like Krista, had “aced” the AP physics course at their high school.
I thus asked Manny how he reconciled what he had learned about the “Big Bang” with his religious conviction that God created the universe and everything in it.
He replied, “What the hell are you talking about, dude? I’m an atheist!”
“Oh, sorry,” I said, “I just assumed that if you were Krista’s boyfriend, you must be religious too. . . .”
“Well, that was a pretty stupid assumption,” he replied. “Sure, we have different opinions about religion but it’s not like people around here cut each other’s heads off over disagreements like that,” he said, fiddling with his iPhone as he spoke.
“Not only do I believe everything I learned in the AP Physics course,” Manny continued with a demonic grin, “but I also believe that the course explains everything in the universe, including this conversation.”
“Seriously?,” I asked.
“Yes, seriously,” he replied. “In fact, one of the questions on the AP Physics exam was, ‘We may regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its past and the cause of its future—true or false?’ Pretty obvious the answer’s ‘true,’ don’t you agree?,” he asked.
“Yes, I guess so,” I said.
“Of course you agree—you have no choice in the matter!,” he stated with a smirk.
“So I guess you are going to be a scientist when you grow up then?…,” I asked.
“Nope. A moral philosopher,” Manny answered.
“A moral philosopher– how can that be?!,” I asked. “If human behavior, along with everything else, can be linked to the impact of natural laws acting on successive states of the universe all the way back to the Big Bang, isn’t it silly to sit around philosophizing about how we ought to live? What ‘choice in the matter’ do we have?”
“That’s the sort of argument that seems really really clever when you are in junior high,” he replied. “Obviously people make reasoned decisions about how to live all the time.”
“But aren’t you contradicting yourself?,” I asked. “You said you believe ‘we may regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its past and the cause of its future’—and yet you also are now saying that humans reasonably form their own life plans . . . .”
“Yes, I’m saying both of those things, but if you think that’s a ‘contradiction,’ you really are dense,” Manny said. “What I believe about the impact of natural laws on human beings and everything else in the universe, on the one hand, and what I believe about the power of free and reasoning human beings to decide how to live, on the other, are entirely different things.”
“I don’t get it,” I said.
“What sort of sorry ass excuse for an education did you receive?,” Manny asked. “Didn’t you ever read Kant’s Groundwork for the Metaphysic of Morals? Or how about either of his first two “Critiques”– of Pure Reason & of Practical Reason?”
“Ummm … Sure, but remind me– it’s been a while — what did he say that’s relevant here?,” I asked.
Manny sighed. “Kant posits that that human rationality involves a fundamentally dualistic self-perspective: as a member of the ‘sensible world,’ we perceive our actions, like everything else, to be caused by external forces of nature; but as a member of the ‘intelligible world,’ we perceive our actions as the product of our autonomous or self-determining wills.”
“Oh, right,” I said.
“You sound like you don’t get it,” Manny sneered. “But if you want ’empirical proof,’ just look at how every scientist lives her life. Yes, she believes that ‘the present state of the universe is the effect of its past and the cause of its future’—at work, where that belief enables her to contribute to the advancement of scientific knowledge. Nor does she bother concocting some metaphysical ‘humans are exempted’ proviso as she’s doing so, because obviously that doesn’t work.”
“But at home,” Manny continued, “that same scientist disbelieves human actions are caused by deterministic natural laws.” “The belief that that human beings have the capacity to choose how to live is woven into the mosaic of desires, emotions, and moral evaluations that enables her to be a parent who takes pride in the accomplishments of her children; or to be a citizen who decides she should do something to fight the threat that global warming poses to her community or to humanity or whatever.”
“Don’t you see,” Manny resumed after a pause, “we are all Pakistani Drs! Actually, I know you don’t see that; perhaps that is something you’d like to study sometime. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m supposed to meet Krista so we can watch the latest episode of Mythbusters.”
Boy, those teenagers–such “know-it-alls”!