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Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Liberty Loves Reason: Trees, Freedom, and Rationality

The full title of this 45-minute documentary - Liberty Loves Reason: The Evolved Wisdom of Trees versus Identity Politics and Political Correctness - shows exactly what you're getting into if you watch it, which I very much recommend:  a brief on the importance of reason in this, our hyper-partisan age,  and its connection to the biological, evolutionary basis of our and all living knowledge and intellectual faculties, as well exemplified in trees.

Well, maybe this documentary is a little more than that.  It argues, as did John Milton, that truth and falsity must be free to fight it out in the marketplace of ideas.  This means that excluding any patently untrue idea is a dangerous thing to do, on even the slim chance that it may be not be untrue, for that would result in truth not falsity being excluded.

In the realm of trees and all non-human organisms, nothing is ipso facto excluded.  Instead, strategies are tested (unconsciously, for trees).  If they survive, their lack of falsity has been demonstrated, at least to a point.  In trees and other living, non-human things, these "ideas" will continue to be employed in this way, unless and until something in the environment changes and the strategy no longer works.

Karl Popper and his evolutionary epistemology is most and correctly associated with this (though Ray Scott Percival should have mentioned that Donald T. Campbell most developed that term, in a brilliant essay with that very title in The Philosophy of Karl Popper two-volume anthology published in 1974).   Percival might have also mentioned Popper's "paradox of tolerance" (from Popper's 1945 The Open Society and its Enemies), lately used as a justification for censoring hate speech.  I always thought that Popper's argument that allowing speech that preaches the destruction of a free society should be not be allowed, since such speech is designed to destroy the free society, misses the point that the free society is compromised the instant it censors anything, including noxious hate speech.  (See my Government Regulation of Social Media Would Be a Cure Far Worse than the Disease for more.)

But despite these inevitable imperfections, Liberty Loves Reason is a lushly imagined and photographed masterpiece, beautifully scored, of an intellectual argument absolutely crucial to these our dangerous times.  Eminently worth your time.

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