Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Neither Unusual Nor Non-Material Equals Irrational

An annoying modern tic is to confuse "unusual" or "non-material" with "irrational." I was reading a kid's book (with some kids) today, and a character who has died and come back to consciousness in a sort of purgatory thinks to herself, "There must be some rational explanation."

There is absolutely nothing irrational about thinking, "I've just died and this is what happens after death." Socrates, one of the most rational people who ever lived, thought he had excellent arguments for the immortality of the soul. (And neither his arguments nor the idea of the soul itself were parts of his religious tradition: both were inventions and/or discoveries of philosophy.)

Socrates may have been wrong, and perhaps there is just death and that's that. There may be no such things as ghosts, but thinking "Dead Uncle Ned left me that message" is not an irrational idea.

Just remember, the idea of irrationality is itself non-material!


  1. Ancient Greece didn't have an idea of a soul?

    1. Well, it did, as developed by its philosophers. In, for instance, Homer, what survives death is a "shade," something far different from the philosophers' idea of psyche.

      See Eric Voegelin on the "discovery of the soul" in Greek philosophy.

    2. Hm. Interesting. Though what about Hindu or ancient Egyptian ideas of an afterlife? Do those not count because the souls can be destroyed?

    3. I think Voegelin would have allowed for a parallel discovery in India. As far as Egypt goes, what survives is so complex I'm not sure I understand what it all means: we have the ib, sheut, ba, ka, ren, and akh all as "soul" in some sense or another!



"If your approach to mathematics is mechanical not mystical, you're not going to go anywhere." -- Nassim Nicholas Taleb