Archive for the ‘consensus’ Category

Consensus on my brain: Murphy on "Orwellian" consensus, Callahan's consensus on "objective" moral truths, & consensus among neurons

September 30th, 2009 No comments

A recent post by the prolifically productive Bob Murphy, “A Quick Note from Baltimore“, provides an opportunity for further thoughts on my continuing effort to puzzle out what Bob and Gene Callahan mean by their insistence that there is an objective moral order to the universe, and on what science seems to tell us about how both brains and groups of individuals function.

In his latest post, Bob decries a statement by Brad DeLong that another economist (Edward Prescott) simply does not live in the consensus reality with the rest of us.”

Says Bob:

Is anybody else weirded-out by the term “consensus reality”? Have you ever heard of a more Orwellian phrase? Not reality mind you, but consensus reality. Prescott’s sin is not being wrong per se, but rather that he disagrees “with the rest of us.” …

Now this “consensus” criterion has spread from climate change to economics?

am not being flip. DeLong’s use of the term “consensus reality”
disturbs me far more than his endorsement of a Keynesian model. At
least if he agrees that things are objectively right or wrong–and uses
language accordingly–we can at least debate the merits of a Keynesian model.

we have no hope of changing anyone’s mind, if we fall into the dreaded
minority viewpoint, in a world dominated by “consensus reality.”

My comments are copied below, with minor editorial changes:

1.  Bob, I think Bertrand has put his finger on the “problem” that seems to
bother you so much: religions – indeed, moral codes of all kinds – work
in precisely the same way.

Don`t you understand the role of
shared moral codes – which evolve to suit changed circumstances (i.e.,
it`s “wrong” to litter, to keep slaves or to make racist, bigoted or
ant-gay remarks) in our societies?

Are all shared consensuses “Orwellian” (which I thought involved a heavy-handed state role), or only non-Christian ones?

Or are you simply complaining that you don`t like DeLong`s effort to enlist public support, since you disagree with him?

this note, do you remember Gene Callahan`s post on how a libertarian
society might employ moral suasion as a key lever in addressing
concerns about man`s roles in climate change? [discussed here and here]; does moral suasion require “objective” truths, or merely shared/consensus values?


2.  “isn’t the “consensus reality” trick how Gene_Callahan usually tries to win philosophical debates?” [a comment by Silas Barta, with reference to comments by Gene Callahan on the thread I remark on here]

Silas, while I think your observation is fair, it seems to me the more
telling point is that Gene`s own behavior belies his arguments that
there are objective, universal moral truths.

Instead, we each
perceive our own reality, influenced by incoming information, including
the beliefs of others and apparent gaps between our mental map of
reality and incoming information.

Our reliance on an apparent
“consensus” should not be ignored. As a society of individuals, we are
significantly affected by what others believe, and we often find we are
weaker than we hope when faced with consensus views that we disagree

Further, each of us lacks the ability to independently
confirm the validity of the beliefs about reality that we accept into
our mental maps.

As a result, the “appeal to” authority, popularity, etc. fallacies are not simply rife, but unavoidable.

scientists are finding that “consensus decision-making” processes are
at work not only in groups of individuals, but even at more fundamental
levels of personal perception, at the level of groups of neurons: