Tag Archives: science

Science v Philosophy

I assume that one of the underlying purposes of psychoanalysis, of psychiatric treatment, is to get to a point where further psychoanalysis is unnecessary, that the neuroses in the patient have been identified, assessed, treated, and successfully mitigated or eliminated. In other words, the goal of therapy is to stop the need for therapy. To no longer be a recovering neurotic, so to speak, but instead to be a non-neurotic.

As someone who eight years ago stopped smoking cigarettes, I can relate. But for me, the key to quitting was to stop referring to myself as a ex-smoker, as a “recovering nicotine addict”. The only way I could stop, cold turkey, and never think of picking up another cigarette was to think of myself as a non-smoker. A non-smoker would never need a cigarette, whereas an ex-smoker might be tempted to fall back in the habit, you see.

There are a lot of atheists and agnostics out there who might, if you asked them to think on it, consider themselves “recovering” Christians. There certainly are a lot of neo-pagans who do so; and I suspect that a great many Westerners who have drifted to Eastern or other “exotic” spiritual paths consider themselves struggling and in recovery from their Western cultural roots. Even modern Satanists are either simply anti-Christians, or in the LaVey tradition, mere worshippers of Self as God. Likewise, those pagans who see an ideal world of myriad gods and goddesses, with temples on every corner are trying to replace their childhood Christianity with the illusion of something different. The Greeks, at some point, had it right, when they made their gods just a little more than human, and by doing, elevated man as the ultimate ideal – but they muddled it up with “divine” intention as well. As Richard Dawkins says in “The Magic of Reality” the wonders of science are diverse, fascinating, and “magical” enough, without interjecting some kind of supernatural into them.

I was raised non-religious, by an engineer and a biologist. One might suppose our holy trinity was Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton, and Henry Ford. I was exposed to religion, but never took part except voluntarily and as an absolute outsider/non-believer. In my late teens, I spent a lot of time looking for spiritual paths that seemed to tie the whole together; had I been born 20 or 30 years later, the ideas of quantum science and chaos might have drawn me deeply into the sciences. As it was, at least in my high school view, each of the sciences (i.e., physics, chemistry, biology) seemed their own separate fiefdoms, each requiring the share language of mathematics to progress to any degree. And mathematics, perhaps because of my father’s aptitude for it, was something that did not directly arouse my interest. I did better in geometry than algebra, if only because it seemed so much less abstract – although later in life, abstraction became quite a fascination for me.

As a result, I was never exposed to the idea that we are all “star-stuff”, that me and every other thing in the universe was in fact a product of the same source material. But maybe during the 1980s that idea was not yet so prevalent as it is today, and the need to try to connect everything through a single omnipresent divinity was more likely the idea. I don’t know.

It makes so much sense to me now, of course, except I still don’t grasp all the mathematics. They say that musicians often use math as a hobby, and that mathematicians use music in the same way, both having an affinity for what on the surface seems a diametrically opposed discipline. But they are ultimately both math, of course – music is horizontal and vertical intervals; matter and wave moving through time. It is physics; the only science subject I successfully navigated in high school.

Philosophy, they say, is supposed to the the science that imagines, and then verifies (although the methods for verification here are somewhat nebulous) the truth of that imagining, a single underlying (or overarching, or connecting, or unifying) principle that connects all knowledge (and by that is meant scientific knowledge from both the “hard” and “soft” sciences). What I wonder is if there has been any serious current collaboration between philosophers (a great many of whom were originally mathematicians, or in their early stages, “natural” philosophers, who contemplated the nature of the physical world around them and in the process, invented the other sciences) and scientists (e.g., physicists, biologists, chemists) to more deeply and completely understand our world and our place in it – particularly given recent advances in science toward unified theories of existence.

One great obstacle in that cooperation seems to be philosophy’s current focus on the theoretical for its own sake, to prove or make points with or against another philosopher, not to advance humanity’s knowledge, but to smugly poke holes in the net we’re all using to catch that knowledge, without really repairing it and making it more useful. I see “theorizing”, like theoretical physics which seems to advance theories as a way of proceeding to practical demonstration of that theory’s usefulness, in a more positive, forward-seeking way. That could just be my perception, of course. I recently quipped that philosophers primarily seemed interested in diluting, diffusing, deconstructing, or discrediting the work of other philosophers. Of course, we all stand on the shoulders of giants, and behind true science is always the idea of finding and correcting the flaw in a predecessor’s proof so as to go beyond it – perhaps in a completely different and unexpected direction.

But I wonder, of those scientists and philosophers who may be working together right now – how many of them are “recovering” Christians, or Hindus, or Buddhists? How many still try to reconcile the idea of Divine intervention with the seemingly obvious natural magic that is reality? How many still fight against the urge to defer to an unseen entity as the prime mover?

Can one trace, as Huxley did in The Perennial Philosophy, the journey on the road to find out, where a set of single underlying, non-supernatural principles is universally (i.e., across many earth cultures) understood to be the basis of human reality, without relying like Huxley on non-scientific input from faith-based mystics, gurus and saints?

Inquiring, skeptical minds wanna know.

30 JAN 2017

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On Tools

What future use will be our tools
for building greater monuments,
technologies to reach beyond
our yesterday capacity,
if all that drives tomorrow’s will
is to create for their own sake
more grand machines to take the place
of what was once achieved with hands?

What purpose, past mere science gained,
will drive the new mechanics’ soul
to strive outside the here and now
of knowledge limited to cogs,
efficiencies and labor’s yield?

Posterity will need more art
than engineering can provide;
lest it learn just technology
that serves as means to many ends,
and can be turned cruel and unjust
by pure philosophy’s intent.

What good these tools, these saws and nails,
these plows and drills, these guns and bombs,
without instructions for their use
that clearly spell the dangers out?

What will our far descendants know
of how we brought these things to bear
in carving out a worthwhile world,
one nurtured carefully and shared,
if all we choose to leave behind
is how to build, not reasons why?

22 MAY 2007

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So Much for Science

The art of living well, some pundits quip,
is equal parts audacity and luck;
while others posit a stiff upper lip
and careful breeding lift us from the muck.

The hedonist claims pleasure is the thing;
his polar opposite, the aesthete: prayer.
Each year a new philosophy that brings
the focus to some erstwhile, dormant layer.

I think there is no “art” to life at all.
A chimp can paint a Pollock, nonetheless;
and like a tortured artist, see his walls
as solid bars that shut out happiness.

There is some irony that humans spend
so much of their free time imagining
that their exalted rank must have some end
beyond the simple fact that is living.

The question I would pose to scientists
is whether when they put chimps in a room
to type out “War and Peace”, they get them blitzed
before they start, and tell them, from the womb

that real chimps study law, or man machines,
and must resign themselves to apish rules;
how many, then, would live their lives in dreams
and fail the tests so valued by their schools?

20 JUN 2005

Prompted by the article Pollock’s? No, but the artist aped his work.

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The Politics of Deconstruction

A moment, more or less, of deconstruction:
by which I mean to delve into the soul
that strives to separate life from destruction
and yet maintain some semblance of the whole,
to claim by sacred right the single kernel,
the isolated truth-soaked grain of sand
that by its presence negates the infernal
in concrete terms all can understand.

It does not matter what stated intention
the writer may have claimed explained their work.
Creative types are just show and pretension;
in equal parts: saint, sinner, genius, jerk.
Believe me, I have far more poignant insight
by virtue of not wasting any time
in chasing muses past the hour of midnight
to be rewarded by one simple rhyme.

Besides, too many think themselves creative
and squander precious time lost in that haze.
The world needs workers, not more contemplatives,
who pass up duty just to navel gaze.
We need poetry, ’tis true, but with some guidance:
interpretations that have been approved,
that faced with doubt and free will, choose avoidance
and recommend such options be removed.

It only takes a moment’s intervention
to steer a young and growing mind astray;
remember, cure is harder than prevention,
so put those blinders on without delay.
Besides, it only starts with art and culture;
are politics … religion … far behind?
Trust me, do you want, hanging like a vulture,
someone with vision checking your design?

We deconstruct to make it seem like science,
instead of art or magic, sacred stuff
that at its core encourages defiance
and shows our plans for what they are, a bluff.
In pieces, the world fits into our puzzle,
and none can see the holes we’ve yet to fill.
With so-called education as a muzzle,
we can do what we want, and always will.

30 APR 2005

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Footnotes to Occam’s Razor and the Heart Sutra

I made reference to the principle of Occam’s razor in a post the other day. Here is some additional information on that principle:

Occam’s razor is a logical principle attributed to the mediaeval philosopher William of Occam (or Ockham). The principle states that one should not make more assumptions than the minimum needed. This principle is often called the principle of parsimony. It underlies all scientific modelling and theory building. It admonishes us to choose from a set of otherwise equivalent models of a given phenomenon the simplest one. In any given model, Occam’s razor helps us to “shave off” those concepts, variables or constructs that are not really needed to explain the phenomenon. By doing that, developing the model will become much easier, and there is less chance of introducing inconsistencies, ambiguities and redundancies. Though the principle may seem rather trivial, it is essential for model building because of what is known as the “underdetermination of theories by data”. For a given set of observations or data, there is always an infinite number of possible models explaining those same data. This is because a model normally represents an infinite number of possible cases, of which the observed cases are only a finite subset. The non-observed cases are inferred by postulating general rules covering both actual and potential observations.

Much more to be found at: Occam’s Razor

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