Sunday, April 25, 2010

Religion, Science, and the inneffabile

[Note: Several statements in the first paragraph no longer reflect my current opinion, see the next entry above for an explanation.]

There are the things of the world we are able to sense directly or detect with sensitive apparatus, and the things we cannot.  Those things we can sense are useful in making and carrying out sound decisions, those things we cannot detect cannot be used for making sound decisions.  I think it is inappropriate to make decisions based on ideas that cannot be independently tested and confirmed.  One of the reasons I believe this is so that the rights of everyone are respected.  That way if someone asks "Why?" They can be given a reason that they can confirm or prove wrong.  Everyone can have a say, the facts are available for all.  Basically this means rules should have some basis in science.  Science sounds like a very modern idea, or even a futuristic one, but it's roots reach deep into the past.  It is a way of looking at the world much like philosophy, with curiosity and the willingness to learn new things.  It is the spirit of invention and creation.  It is useful, but has no ends other than those we give it. 

Can we detect everything?  It would be sheer hubris to say we can.  Laozi had a simple solution for this, what he could not detect could not be described.  It remains mysterious and ineffible.  There's nothing wrong with that.  Beauty is also mysterious.  We can choose whether or not we want to fear the unknown.  I think it is essential to the scientific and philosophical attitude to recognize the limitations of each endeavor, without negating the importance of their contributions, and for any person to reconsider their position if they find their claims to have exceeded their abilities regarding the subject on which they speak.  Right now, too much self interest and not enough science based explanations are used in decision making.

But then, one wonders if the sciences offer a consilinece of knowledge, as per E. O. Wilson, or if, as Feyerabend would have us believe, the actual condition is one of epistemological anarchy due to fundamental incommensurability.  It is liberating to realize the world cannot be seen through any one lens.  Though all are not equal, neither is one the best.  I had imagined there may be a theory of everything, but now I am not as sure.  Everything is unique and special, each experience and person is fundamentally different from the next.  I approach everything anew each time.  Doesn't reality resist categorization as much as I do?

3 comments:

aratina cage said...

It is liberating to realize the world cannot be seen through any one lens.

It makes sense that this would be so given how we were created through evolution in which variation is essential.

Keir said...

Currently I am reading through Dawkins' "The God Delusion" in preparation for his visit here on July 15, and I want to get his signature in his book. He calls ideas such as evolution "cranes", which I gather signifies their broad usefulness as a concept. Humans evolved, and in like manner, ideas evolve as well. And this is exactly what Feyerabend was describing, the evolution of science and the means by which it functions. Evolution is so fascinating because it really frustrates many notions people have. There is no purpose or design involved in it. As Feyerabend provocatively described science, so could he have just as easily been describing evolution, both are games in which "anything goes" (his words, not mine!).

aratina cage said...

You are so lucky that you get to hear Dawkins lecture. I have not watched or listened to a lecture of his yet that I did not find interesting, and most of them have a jewel or two in them that is enlightening. I have not read any of his books, but I know about "cranes" and "skyhooks" from Dennett; they are actually the same thing, but skyhooks mysteriously appear out of the sky from nowhere (never mind that crane over there that reaches high into the air from which the skyhook is dangling). I think your assessment of cranes is correct, too; they are solidly grounded and relatively simple machines but allow construction of some of the most magnificent structures ever made by humans.


Humans evolved, and in like manner, ideas evolve as well.

Yes, I think that was the idea behind the meme, so (reading from your later post on Feyerabend) maybe you are right and Dawkins does have an appreciation for Feyerabend.


Evolution is so fascinating because it really frustrates many notions people have. There is no purpose or design involved in it.

Yes. My understanding of all the implications evolution has for us humans has definitely grown far beyond what I ever thought it would.