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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