Relevance and Irrelevance

editing_for_authors
Editing for authors: because every writer needs a good editor.

Status
Not open for further replies.

RichardGarfinkle

Nurture Phoenixes
Staff member
Moderator
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jan 2, 2012
Messages
10,449
Reaction score
1,581
Location
Walking the Underworld
Website
www.richardgarfinkle.com

I expect we've all had discussions IRL and online that seemed to consist of people talking past each other and getting more and more irate as their words fail to connect.

Underlying this is an interesting and uncomfortable fact of philosophy and humanity:

We don't all agree on what matters in a particular subject. We do not all agree on what is relevant.

This may sound dull and obvious, but this lack of agreement can carry a great deal of passion with it. What is vital in one person's life can be automatically dismissed by another person.

To some people this action is inconceivable. How can the most important thing in the universe mean nothing to someone else?

We see this behavior in nearly every aspect of life.

Fans of different activities (sports, books, movies, games) often have a hard time believing that others don't care at all about their fandom.

People who care about other people (their own families, for example) often cannot accept that others do not share that interest.

And here's the reason why I'm posting this in this board:

Member of religions and adherents of particular philosophies often find it impossible to believe that non-members find the concerns of that religion or philosophy irrelevant to the lives and thoughts of others.

I'd like to venture the opinion that this disconnect is a far more common source of broken communication than the more glorified situation where people agree on relevance and disagree on right and wrong.

I don't want to list too many hot button issues that I think are driven by this fracture in relevance, otherwise I'd likely find myself in the ironic position of having to lock the thread I started.

Rather, I'd like to suggest analysis of the kinds of discussion subjects that do go up in flames in order to find incompatibilities of relevance.

It might seem unlikely that this conflict would cause thread-go-boom, but let's consider the kinds of visceral reactions that arise within discussion.

I submit that there is nothing so angering as having something we cherish treated as irrelevant.

It is also, in my experience, more difficult to convince people of relevance than it is to get them to change their views within an agreed-upon context. This leads to the escalating frustration that arises from trying, futilely, to direct someone else to consider the subject from a different perspective.

There is also a social complication in matters of relevance that can lead to a sense of impotence and helplessness or boiling-over rage.

One of the exercises of social power is the ability to declare a subject relevant or irrelevant.

A person who gets to choose what questions to ask, what items are on the agenda, what subjects can and can't be discussed, that person has power over others.


<Side Note For Logic Buffs>

Relevance as a specific subject in discourse and logic first came to my attention in high school. At the time I was fascinated by symbolic logic (oh, there's a shock), and came across the book Entailment: The Logic of Relevance and Necessity by Anderson and Belnap.

<For those annoyed at time lag between volumes of books>

Volume I published in 1975.

Volume II in 1992.

</For those annoyed at time lag between volumes of books>

The book tried to formalize the concept that reasoning required relevance between premises and conclusions, a concept that had been lacking in formal logic.

Here's a summary of the subject:
http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/logic-relevance/

It's difficult to abstract the concept of relevance, but once done it becomes possible to map the incompatibilities in people's arguments.

</Side Note For Logic Buffs>
 

Siri Kirpal

Swan in Process
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Sep 20, 2011
Messages
8,731
Reaction score
2,741
Location
In God I dwell, especially in Eugene OR
Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

One year into our now 41 year marriage, my husband and I realized that 90% of our arguments involved semantics. We'd argue about something and not realize each was saying the same thing, but using different words to say it. That seems to be one point you're making.

The main point seems to be that no one likes to be dismissed. Well, naturally! Actually, having been raised by people who didn't like religion, this is no unusual situation for me.

Was there another point you were trying to make? Or some question?

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal
 

ColoradoGuy

I've seen worse.
Staff member
Super Moderator
Moderator
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Oct 11, 2005
Messages
6,674
Reaction score
1,481
Location
The City Different
Website
www.chrisjohnsonmd.com
Another aspect of this issue is that, since the Enlightenment, philosophers have often worked under the innate assumption that there is a single best answer to intellectual and philosophical problems. One of my favorite thinkers is Isaiah Berlin, who pointed out that mutually incompatible answers may be equally correct. His set of essays, Against the Current, is a fascinating examination of that issue.
 
Last edited:

RichardGarfinkle

Nurture Phoenixes
Staff member
Moderator
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jan 2, 2012
Messages
10,449
Reaction score
1,581
Location
Walking the Underworld
Website
www.richardgarfinkle.com
Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

One year into our now 41 year marriage, my husband and I realized that 90% of our arguments involved semantics. We'd argue about something and not realize each was saying the same thing, but using different words to say it. That seems to be one point you're making.

The main point seems to be that no one likes to be dismissed. Well, naturally! Actually, having been raised by people who didn't like religion, this is no unusual situation for me.

Was there another point you were trying to make? Or some question?

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal

Actually yes. It's not just a matter of dismissal, but of the question of how to create proper dialogues across boundaries of mutual irrelevance and attempts to frame discussions according to one and only perspective.

One practical question is how to see the relevance of other people's views to them while making clear the relevance of ones own views as one sees them.

It then might be possible to find bridging concepts which could create a region where actual discussion could be had.
 

Siri Kirpal

Swan in Process
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Sep 20, 2011
Messages
8,731
Reaction score
2,741
Location
In God I dwell, especially in Eugene OR
Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

Good question! But also about as easy to answer as "How do you get people to Respect Their Fellow Writer?" if they don't want to.

From my point of view, dismissing a person's view as irrelevant sounds like the person doesn't care. How does anyone care for what they have no enthusiasm for?

I don't think that's what you mean, though. I think you mean how do we get past not accommodating each others worldviews.

We have our common humanity. That's one point. It's easier to accommodate the worldview of someone we do care about, even if we aren't on the same page. So, continuing the metaphor: how do we realize we're all in the same book?

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal
 

RichardGarfinkle

Nurture Phoenixes
Staff member
Moderator
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jan 2, 2012
Messages
10,449
Reaction score
1,581
Location
Walking the Underworld
Website
www.richardgarfinkle.com
Common humanity is to my mind the place to start. Unfortunately, it's one of the things people run from really quickly. Denial of the humanity of others is one of the oldest and nastiest tricks in the book.
 

Maxx

Got the hang of it, here
Super Member
Registered
Joined
May 26, 2010
Messages
3,227
Reaction score
202
Location
Durham NC
Actually yes. It's not just a matter of dismissal, but of the question of how to create proper dialogues across boundaries of mutual irrelevance and attempts to frame discussions according to one and only perspective.

The notion of a boundary is interesting. I think there are boundaries and that the consignment of something to the vague realm of neither-relevent-nor-irrelevent indicates placement outside a boundary of some kind.

So to declare something is irrelevent is to put it in an actively excluded area that is different than simply being outside the boundary of the knowable or thinkable.

So the distinction for me is not a matter of relevence, but what is thinkable in some kind of bounded terms versus what is more-or-less unthinkable in those terms.
 

RichardGarfinkle

Nurture Phoenixes
Staff member
Moderator
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jan 2, 2012
Messages
10,449
Reaction score
1,581
Location
Walking the Underworld
Website
www.richardgarfinkle.com
Maxx,
That's an interesting distinction or non-distinction. Pardon me while I get metaphoric.

Unthinkable always struck me as a heavy concept. An unthinkable thought was one that was beyond ones ability to conceive (with perhaps a dash of Lovecraftishness).

Irrelevant struck me as a lightening concept. An irrelevance was something one could blow away without a moment's consideration.

But you're giving me the idea that these two (deeming unthinkable and deeming irrelevant) are the same mental action, but differently clothed.

That does make sense with the Logic of Relevance.
 

Maxx

Got the hang of it, here
Super Member
Registered
Joined
May 26, 2010
Messages
3,227
Reaction score
202
Location
Durham NC
Maxx,

But you're giving me the idea that these two (deeming unthinkable and deeming irrelevant) are the same mental action, but differently clothed.

Well, yes and no. I'll give an innocuous example ( since I've been interested in this type of boundary -- between the innocuous (ie unthinkable) and the irrelevent (ie actively excluded) I have discovered that for most people most of the past is unthinkable) and the very innocousness of the example will show the nature of the unthinkable.

Quoting myself from the "Mythologizing" thread:

First -- there was really no way the City of Rome could be cleared of all traces of things earlier than Christianity. There was even a church (and I guess there still is) with Minerva in the name and in that case the temple was not made into a church until 750. And of course lots of pre-Christian rituals (such as the annual squirting of stuff on matrons) went on. if anything the systematic presentation of pre-Christian imagery as "Classical Mythology" represented a serious attempt to clean things up a little.

Hmmm...poking around on Wikipedia we find that the Temple of Vesta was apparently never made into a church and it was totally demolished in 1549. A strange undercurrent there: the place was too non-Christian to mess with, but it wasn't cleaned up til 1549. Of course that might be a technical problem since there may not have been enough tackle to take a big temple appart in the period from say 400 AD to 1549. But I doubt it. It was probably just too scary until some kind of historical relativism allowed people to say the days of temples were over and the goddess was long gone.

Many layers of the unthinkable versus the irrelevent are implied in the status of the Temple of Vesta. First, our average reader will say to themselves: "the status of the Temple of Vesta means nothing to me." At first glance this is simple irrelevence, ie "I" as constructed out of my set of current ideologically-grounded choices (complete with implied boundaries) have nothing to do with the Temple of Vesta. I (in this case me) even thought the temple had somehow survived -- since I had seen photographs of it. It seemed to be thinkable since it could be photographed -- even if it was irrelevent. And so I "believed" (erroneously basking in placing the temple in the conveniently useful category of "irrelevent") until I read the Wiki on the Temple. Well, the irrelevent Temple was a fake built by the Fascists. The real temple is unthinkable.

Now note how innocuous this is. I find it mysteriously satisfying to ponder the innocuously unthinkable Temple not even buried, not even unimaginable, not even irrelevent but simply unthinkable.
 
Last edited:

Dawnstorm

punny user title, here
Super Member
Registered
Joined
May 18, 2007
Messages
2,750
Reaction score
445
Location
Austria
Unthinkable always struck me as a heavy concept. An unthinkable thought was one that was beyond ones ability to conceive (with perhaps a dash of Lovecraftishness).

Irrelevant struck me as a lightening concept. An irrelevance was something one could blow away without a moment's consideration.

But you're giving me the idea that these two (deeming unthinkable and deeming irrelevant) are the same mental action, but differently clothed.

Hm. I'm an atheist. For me, God is unthinkable. But that unthinkability doesn't feel heavy, because God is also irrelevant. For many theists I know, God is also unthinkable, but He's also highly relevant. So that unthinkability has a lot of gravity.

In fact, the gravity spills over in interaction: I wouldn't have to be an atheist if it didn't. Saying that God doesn't exist is already the concession of a relevance I don't really feel.
 

RichardGarfinkle

Nurture Phoenixes
Staff member
Moderator
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jan 2, 2012
Messages
10,449
Reaction score
1,581
Location
Walking the Underworld
Website
www.richardgarfinkle.com
Hm. I'm an atheist. For me, God is unthinkable. But that unthinkability doesn't feel heavy, because God is also irrelevant. For many theists I know, God is also unthinkable, but He's also highly relevant. So that unthinkability has a lot of gravity.

In fact, the gravity spills over in interaction: I wouldn't have to be an atheist if it didn't. Saying that God doesn't exist is already the concession of a relevance I don't really feel.

I'm an atheist as well, but I'm also a fantasy writer. So in my life God is irrelevant, but that doesn't stop me writing about worlds with Gods.

But this does bring up the matter of context. One can study religion and religious history and in that context find religious ideas relevant and thinkable. Indeed, it can be hard to comprehend a lot of people's actions and choices without thinking about other people thinking what is otherwise unthinkable.

There's also second hand relevance. God is irrelevant to me, but not to some friends of mine. To best understand them, I need to understand how this irrelevant concept is relevant to them.
 

Dawnstorm

punny user title, here
Super Member
Registered
Joined
May 18, 2007
Messages
2,750
Reaction score
445
Location
Austria
I'm an atheist as well, but I'm also a fantasy writer. So in my life God is irrelevant, but that doesn't stop me writing about worlds with Gods.

I've written fantasy, too. But the thing is: I'm writing around the concept of gods, rather than writing about them. I can treat gods as characters, or as abstract concepts with a reality, but in all cases there's a black-box input/output system in place. What makes a god a god remains unthinkable for me.

But this does bring up the matter of context. One can study religion and religious history and in that context find religious ideas relevant and thinkable. Indeed, it can be hard to comprehend a lot of people's actions and choices without thinking about other people thinking what is otherwise unthinkable.

There's also second hand relevance. God is irrelevant to me, but not to some friends of mine. To best understand them, I need to understand how this irrelevant concept is relevant to them.

Well, at least for many of the monotheists around me (Christians, most of them Catholic), there's an aspect of mystery to believing. But it's not supposed to be a resolvable mystery: the relevant thing about the mystery seems to be awe in the face of the unthinkable. At least that's how it seems to me.

That doesn't mean that people can't derive thinkable content from the mystery (e.g. all the things that go into scripture). I'm not sure how that works, but I can see that it does for others.

My main point was, though, that I think relevance and thinkability are two different things. Unthinkable and relevant combine into observable emotions, anything from awe to frustration. Also, I'm not thinking in absolute terms: the irrelevant can become relevant (re-orientation); the unthinkable can become thinkable (epiphany).
 

RichardGarfinkle

Nurture Phoenixes
Staff member
Moderator
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jan 2, 2012
Messages
10,449
Reaction score
1,581
Location
Walking the Underworld
Website
www.richardgarfinkle.com
I have a view of mysteries that doesn't require any religious elements. Given the way people talk about mysteries, it has struck me that a mystery is a transformation of or creation of a new process of thought that did not pre-exist.

Under this view, we all experience mysteries in the course of learning things. The transition between when all you have is a collection of pieces then somehow you have a whole thing. People describe this process when learning languages, and I've seen it in teaching and learning math. It also shows up in playing instruments etc.

The transition seems to be unknowable or unthinkable, but not irrelevant.

Note: At one point I wrote a mystery novel that was also about this view of mysteries.

To some religious people, their experience of the divine has this attitude of mystery, a recourse to the unthinkable that produces the thinkable, but as I say, I don't think it's confined to the religious.
 

Dawnstorm

punny user title, here
Super Member
Registered
Joined
May 18, 2007
Messages
2,750
Reaction score
445
Location
Austria
I have a view of mysteries that doesn't require any religious elements. Given the way people talk about mysteries, it has struck me that a mystery is a transformation of or creation of a new process of thought that did not pre-exist.

Under this view, we all experience mysteries in the course of learning things. The transition between when all you have is a collection of pieces then somehow you have a whole thing. People describe this process when learning languages, and I've seen it in teaching and learning math. It also shows up in playing instruments etc.

The transition seems to be unknowable or unthinkable, but not irrelevant.

That's pretty much where I am. You won't experience something you don't care about as a mystery; or differently put: a mystery is by definition both unthinkable and relevant.

I wasn't actually talking about religious mysteries in general. I have little experience with mysteries outside the Roman Catholic people around me; everything I know about religious mysteries from other points of view comes from reading about them, or reading posts online (often between the lines). [May I say, at that point, that I always appreciate Siri Kirpal's posts, even if I usually have little to say in reply?]

My impression is that Catholicism at least (though it's probably not unique to Catholicism) gathers many mysteries together into a unresolvable and permanent master mystery, which inspires awe. That the master mystery is permanent and unresolvable doesn't mean you cannot tackle the single mysteries that make it up.

This is sort of different to my impression of, say, Zen Koans, where I feel that the emphasis is on perspective shifts, rather than the slow and steady pondering. (But I don't know any practioners of Zen, so that's shakey at best.)

From this, I think, there's a difference in relevance between what I need to know (even if I don't want to), and what I want to know (even if I don't need to). I think I might be seeing that sort of difference between practical and emotional relevance when experts write about quantum physics. A lot of the interpretative frameworks (e.g. multiple worlds theory) seems to be more emotional than practical to me - but then I don't get quantum theory, so I may be wrong (do the different interpretative frameworks actually practical differences?).

One thing that's a mystery to me, of the I-want-to-know variety is this: If I want to understand why someone likes something, is that even possible without coming to like it myself? For this subforum, I could express it like this: Can I understand what people mean by god, without becoming a theist in the process? (An alternative question is: do I maybe already understand that but dismiss it, because of my desire to think well of others and/or to avoid conflict?)

So, an unreserved "yes" to that:

To some religious people, their experience of the divine has this attitude of mystery, a recourse to the unthinkable that produces the thinkable, but as I say, I don't think it's confined to the religious.
 

Siri Kirpal

Swan in Process
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Sep 20, 2011
Messages
8,731
Reaction score
2,741
Location
In God I dwell, especially in Eugene OR
Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

I agree that epiphanies need not be religious. I clearly remember the "click" in my mind when I "got" how to read at age 8. I'd been "reading" earlier, but it was rout. After the click, it was the real thing.

And that's why it's so hard to explain religion to people who don't "get" it. I've had that "click," that total verification that everything is divine (even atheists :)). But if you haven't had that "click," religion will either be dull routine, something you do because your parents did, or something you shun all together.

BTW, thanks, Dawnstorm.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal
 

Maxx

Got the hang of it, here
Super Member
Registered
Joined
May 26, 2010
Messages
3,227
Reaction score
202
Location
Durham NC
One thing that's a mystery to me, of the I-want-to-know variety is this: If I want to understand why someone likes something, is that even possible without coming to like it myself? For this subforum, I could express it like this: Can I understand what people mean by god, without becoming a theist in the process? (An alternative question is: do I maybe already understand that but dismiss it, because of my desire to think well of others and/or to avoid conflict?)

So, an unreserved "yes" to that:

This is sort of like the question of how much sympathy one automatically puts into affirming that you know what somebody means. For example, due to an excess of reading Pride and Prejudice, I might have very definite opinions if somebody said something like, "I don't think Mister Darcy was really all that nice to Mister Bingley."
BUT while I might sympathize with the opinion or even with the awkward positions Mister Bingley is forced into...I still don't necessarily have to believe that Mister Darcy is a real person. Which I suppose is to suggest that something might be very thinkable and very relevent without being in an ontologically secure position or even having a plausible claim to any sort of existence in a real-world sense.
 

RichardGarfinkle

Nurture Phoenixes
Staff member
Moderator
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jan 2, 2012
Messages
10,449
Reaction score
1,581
Location
Walking the Underworld
Website
www.richardgarfinkle.com
Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

I agree that epiphanies need not be religious. I clearly remember the "click" in my mind when I "got" how to read at age 8. I'd been "reading" earlier, but it was rout. After the click, it was the real thing.

And that's why it's so hard to explain religion to people who don't "get" it. I've had that "click," that total verification that everything is divine (even atheists :)). But if you haven't had that "click," religion will either be dull routine, something you do because your parents did, or something you shun all together.

BTW, thanks, Dawnstorm.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal

Siri, There's a subtle point between your post and Maxx's. There's a distinction between a thing fitting together (clicking) and accepting the truth of it.

Many theoretical structures (religious and otherwise) can fit together, can even fit with perceived reality. A person can perceive that fit, indeed can work within that structure without accepting its reality.

Indeed, part of the art of world buiiding (and character buildnig) is to create a structure that will click, and that one can work in as if it were real without accepting the reality of it.
 

Roxxsmom

Beastly Fido
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Oct 24, 2011
Messages
19,949
Reaction score
3,715
Location
Where faults collide
Website
doggedlywriting.blogspot.com



To some people this action is inconceivable. How can the most important thing in the universe mean nothing to someone else?

I call these "Yuck" moments. When you're talking to someone and you realize that a basic underlying value that drives your life isn't even on the scale for them. Or vice versa.

I suppose that feeling of sick, fascinated horror has been the basis for all kinds of atrocities throughout history. Capturing this moment in writing could be an interesting aspect of world building, as it can give a reader an insight into how different cultures operate in one's world.

I have a scene like this in my novel where a male member of a matriarchal species learns that human males can rape (he needs to have the concept explained to him) human females. He is physically sickened, not just by the fact that they can do it and not get their heads torn off, or even that they can do it and sometimes be pardoned, even rewarded, for it. But that they can do it at all. He knows intellectually that most human cultures are patriarchal, but this was the first time he understood what that really meant.
 
Last edited:

Maxx

Got the hang of it, here
Super Member
Registered
Joined
May 26, 2010
Messages
3,227
Reaction score
202
Location
Durham NC
Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

Sure. But there are also two types of "clicks."

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal

There's also the possibility of an "unclicking" -- as in when somebody assumes a certain sort of coherence in some kind of reality (as when I assumed that the Temple of Vesta had survived more or less since ancient Rome only to find that it had been completely destroyed in 1549 and that the photos of the supposed temple were either of the Fascist reconstruction or the Temple of Hercules (apparently a round temple man like the temple of the winds -- 12 labors, 12 winds?) at Tivoli) and that provisional coherence vanishes. For me various ruins in various stages of ruiniousness provide a chance to unclick and move into the less thinkable aspects of things.
 
Status
Not open for further replies.

Featured Book