I did some background reading on science before my previous post. It seems both our positions fit reasonably well into known categories. My position is closest to scientific pragmatism. Yours appears to be closest to epistemological
anarchism. I enclose my reading list below.
Overview of science:
Types of science:
Boundaries of science:
Pragmatism and scientific realism:
Less pragmatic but related:
Tuesday, June 26, 2012
There's stuff, in patterns. Patterns emerge from the stuff. Stuff emerges from the patterns. One or the other description may be more useful, depending on the goal. We differ from most stuff/patterns in an important respect: given sufficient time and effort, we can explain how stuff works with increasing accuracy. Our explanations are valuable because they allow us to correctly predict what stuff will do. Worrying about whether stuff is real wastes time that would be better spent understanding stuff. Stuff is real enough, and there's lots of it, and it's complicated and potentially lethal and moving fast, so there's no time to waste. This is the essence of pragmatism.
"A theory that proves itself more successful than its rivals in predicting and controlling our world is said to be nearer the truth. This is an operational notion of truth employed by scientists."
"Einstein liked to say that the Moon is 'out there' even when no one is observing it."
-Wikipedia, Local realism
Monday, June 25, 2012
Question 4 appears to be a trap. If I say that science is aesthetic, then it's merely subjective, in which case how is it any more "true" than art? On the other hand if I say science is objective, then how do scientists make value judgments? This trap was a major theme of Robert Pirsig's classic philosophical novel "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance". He attempted to solve the dilemma by positing the existence of "Quality," a preconscious, instinctual value awareness that was neither subject nor object. He explicitly equated Quality with Zen, e.g. by stating "The Quality that can be defined is not the real Quality" (paraphrasing Lao Tze).
Unlike Pirsig I'm not going to retreat into mysticism. The scientific search for better explanations may involve aesthetics, but that's not what makes it scientific. What makes it scientific is the requirement that explanations be testable and predictive. This requirement is what distinguishes science from other human endeavors.
If we generalize aesthetics by equating it with value judgments, ALL endeavors involve aesthetics, and not only human endeavors either. Dolphins and ants also make value judgments, though we might find them hard to relate to. But even if you reject my broad definition of aesthetics, clearly many if not most human endeavors involve aesthetics. However I challenge you to identify a non-scientific human endeavor which requires all explanations to be testable and predictive.
So far the only thing I've described as "boring" is mysticism. Mysticism bores me because it's childish and defeatist. Creationism is a good example. Faced with one of the most challenging, fascinating questions of all time--how complex life came to exist on earth--Creationists say: "don't ask." What could be more boring than that? There are no mysteries in science, only unsolved problems.
Freedom is such a vague and overloaded term that I can't even begin to answer questions 1-3 until we've agreed on a definition of freedom in this context. The same goes for autonomy.
I will look at Hubble before I respond to post below or write more myself. I haven't yet read your post below before posting these questions. After looking at Hubble, I will repond to Hubble experience and to your post below. But I would like to post the following questions I've composed for your consideration in upcoming posts.
1. Do you see any notion of a claim to freedom or autonomy on the part of scientists? If so, what's the nature of this claim to freedom? Is it freedom "to" something, or freedom "from" something?
2. Does this claim to freedom relate in any way to the claim to freedom or autonomy on the part of artists?
3. Does this claim to freedom relate in anyway to the claim to freedom of capitalists?
4. Is science an aesthetic activity?
5. Are scientists artists? (or visa versa) Is there some relationship between art and science?
6. How does this relate to the ideas of "interesting" versus "boring" that you mention. In other words, what is the significance to you of the spectrum of interesting--boring as a measure of value?
Sunday, June 24, 2012
"whether our 'true nature,' fate and destiny is to live in competition and domination (power) or symbiosis and mutuality (wholeness, self-regulation)."
This is another false distinction. All species survive by some COMBINATION of competition and cooperation. The details are complex and vary from place to place, even on tiny scales.
For example, of all animals, ants have the second most highly organized societies, after humans. They exhibit extraordinary degrees of specialization, cooperation, and altruism. Ants normally sacrifice themselves heroically for the welfare of the colony. Ant colonies also periodically conduct all-out wars with other colonies, regardless of whether the colonies are of the same species. These are wars of extermination which only end when one of the colonies is completely destroyed, its territory occupied and its members enslaved or cannibalized. See e.g. Edward O. Wilson for electrifying descriptions of ant life.
Biologically, evolution is the differential survival of self-replicating organisms. Attributes that contribute to survival tend to become more prevalent, while attributes that detract from it tend to die out. On Earth at least, self-replication is an elaborate chemical reaction involving DNA. The attributes themselves are not necessarily competitive or cooperative. The competition in evolution comes from the fact that the energy supply (ultimately sunlight) is limited, and therefore increase of one organism often comes at the expense of another.
Other applications of the term evolution, e.g. to the development of human social systems, or to the spread of ideas or computer viruses, are purely metaphorical, so to avoid confusion I would prefer we restrict use of the term to its biological meaning as stated above.
Your denial of non-human perspective doesn't prevent me from achieving it. In fact this perspective is the source of antihumanism. I reject the statement that "in relationship to cosmic time, nothing matters." To me, the notion that value exists only for humans is just another example of narcissistic humanism. Why should we assume that other organisms don't value their existence? Why shouldn't the universe have intrinsic value?
On question 4, concerning the fate of the human species in terms of millions of years, this is the kind of question that contains so many of your own assumptions that I can't answer it on that level.
You are proposing questions from an inhuman perspective upon being human. In relationship to cosmic time, nothing matters. I am a human being, not the creator of the universe looking down upon all of time and creation. It's a question of scale. You are framing the question within a timescale within which human agency doesn't even exist. And then you are asking me to express my human will (my sense of agency) about what should be done. To me this is like arguing about how many angels fit on the head of a pin. It evokes a longing for God-like power and control over our fate that can never be satisfied, while annihilating the "zoomed in" realm of our own human-scale existence (our collective human subjectivity) in which we can meaningfully participate.
It also suggests a longing for humanity to have some kind of absolute, eternal value.
Can any human, even a scientist, actually does transcend their humanity, for even a second? Is the objective, third-person (out-of-self) perspective of science, which claims to be the unique truth, a scientific delusion? And in fact a shame at being human, vulnerable, and transient?
Finally, does that third-person, objectifying and aestheticizing perspective lead to the legitimation or rationalization of dehumanizing practices and treating people as objects, simply by treating their experience as unreal and off-the-books, externalized out of the system of thought, in the same way that mainstream economics excludes the lifeworld?
I'm thinking of how marginal groups are first dehumanized by the power structure, to prepare acceptance for violence against them.
So the question is, whether the objective point of view promoted by "scientism" lays the ground for violence or oppression of those objectified.
You have said that the Hubble perspective confers humility by showing that humans are mere accidents. That a human-centered perspective is narcissistic.
This brings up the issue of "man is the measure of all things" which is what you say is at the center of what you define as Humanism in the Anti-Humanist manifesto. I think the implications of whether to use a human scale -- in regards to your question 4 on the lifetimes of species -- could have a different relation to humility than you say.
There is an issue of humility in the perspective, and not just in what's being contemplated.
A first thought. I am using the term "pure science" to refer to that science which distinguishes itself from applied science, and the ethical issues associated with it. To you the word "pure" is redundant, because you already assume that science is pure. Thus, according to you, a scientist would reject the term because it implies that there could be such a thing as "impure science" and that would violate the definition of science as inherently pure. In other words, if it's not pure, it's not science.
I am inventing the term "pure science" to draw attention to science's claim to be pure, so that claim to purity (ultimate truth) can be seen for what it is, only a claim. Science's claim to inherent purity (truthfulness) and indeed a unique claim to truthfulness, is what I want to question. First, that there actually is any separation between applied science and "pure science" or what you would call "science." The definition of science, as scientists use it, is self-serving and ideological. Scientists do not have authority over the definition of science. Scientists would like to disassociate themselves from applied science, in the name of their autonomy, the universal value of their work. This universal, autonomous quality, or transcendent quality, is also ascribed to art in our culture.
Therefore it's very relevant that you also invoked Jasper Johns as being sacrosanct. I wouldn't say that Jasper Johns paintings should be destroyed, but I would say that they have no more claim to universal, transcendent value than does science. This also draws attention to the aesthetic value that you ascribe to science. I'm very interested in the ideas about freedom and autonomy (and independence from or transcendence of social conditions and power) that are invoked in three areas: science, art, and the market system. There is something very similar and interrelated about the ideal of freedom in these three pursuits.
I haven't yet looked at the Hubble images. I have had it as an intention, but since I haven't done it, although I am also busy, I clearly am resisting doing it. My first thought is that I'm not interested, because I can't imagine how it would impact on my view of things, it seems off the track of what I'm thinking about (I am preoccupied with the subjective). The perspective of the Hubble seems diametrically opposed to the perspective that seems humanly relevant to me. So the block in me is, "Ok, I need to look up that image, but it's irrelevant to what we're talking about; and I'm not going to see the significance in it that Chris sees." I will make myself look at it and try to understand the significance that it has for you......when I can make myself! I promise I will.
Saturday, June 23, 2012
- What scientist would willingly be called impure? Where is the journal of impure science?
- Should Jasper Johns' paintings be destroyed because he used acrylic, which is a type of plastic?
- Are you opposed to power, on the grounds that authority is impossible without it?
- The average mammal exists for a million years. So far we've managed 100,000 years, a mere tenth of the average. What is it exactly that you hope for? Another 900,000 years? Do you wish for a kinder, gentler period in human history? If so, how long would you expect it to last? Is there any precedent for it in human history? In non-human history?
- Many parasites are born, live their entire lives, and die of old age entirely enclosed in food (e.g. many of the bacteria in your body). Should we be jealous of this? Or should we feel lucky?
- Why haven't you looked at the Hubble telescope images even though I sent you links to them twice? Are you prejudiced against them and if so why?
Reminder notes: issues arising within this conversation:
what is the purpose of the conversation? - is the aim that one convinces the other (capitulation)? or dialogue as mutual development, revealing of assumptions
Discussion of how emotionalism in conversation indicates our dependency upon and investment in ideas that are being threatened. Emotionalism as tracer dye, investigating the conflicts in assumptions is fruitful, rather than angry conflicts being a problem to be avoided.
autonomy: art science market/embedded-means/ends
freedom from what? their work and discoveries of universal value to humanity?
Are scientists like artists, in their social function? (Bohemians)
is ethics separable from science?
Are scientists responsible for how their discoveries are actually used?
Science or "pure science" (does "science" already mean pure?)
authority over terminology, definitions and rules of conversation
science as a system - like tools versus technology - is it neutral?
systems of knowledge - how do you evaluate them? what makes them truthful?
does the word science need to be subdivided? or is everything using the scientific method one thing called science? Is science really about it's method?
Is science an accumulation of true facts and the progressive elimination of errors and superstitions?
Spirituality=errors, delusions, confusions, superstitions Science=facts
Spirituality=first-person perspective, subjective (error) Science=third-person perspective, objective (true)
Spirituality=childish, irresponsible, wishful thinking; Science=adult, responsible, facing the truth
Is science a higher level of knowledge above all other knowledge systems (tradition, religion, mysticism) Kuhn putting everything on level ground.
Is science a religion? Christianity and science - is science really opposed to Christianity, or is it an outgrowth of christianity?
Meaning of the third person perspective (power) (I-It relationships)
Point of view
Time frame (cosmic history? lifetime? 7 generations?)
Is objectivity more truthful than subjectivity?
Science as separating the wheat from the chaff, conclusively proving what is true.
What does "falsifiable" mean?
Science as the best of the human. "do science well, but do ethics badly" idea.
"People are expecting scientists do do something they can't do, they can only provide the facts, they can't solve the political problem."
Political domain is psychology and sociology
I think about psychology and sociology, non-objective; Chris involved with objective;
Mutually exclusive ways of thinking?
Can we even communicate, or are we always going past each other, and not making contact?
Chris: he's asking important questions that I don't answer. Accountability for meeting the points that have been raised. I feel same thing.
First, huge issues being raised, a kind of pile-up. Second, you can't answer a question if you don't concur with underlying assumptions. It's meaningless. You can only answer by starting to talk about the assumptions.
Mutual meaninglessness of our questions and answers.
Thomas Kuhn addresses this!
Idea of trying to slow down the conversation and keep it focused.
Friday, June 22, 2012
Hyphens aren't allowed in the blog URL, but I'm OK with using one in the title (which appears on each page) if you think it's important. In my opinion it's unnecessary as many common words have a meta prefix without the hyphen, e.g. metaphysics, metaprogramming, metatheorem, etc. Whether the hyphen is required is merely a typographical convention subject to change. It seems words that begin with a vowel commonly have the hyphen, e.g. meta-economics not metaeconomics.
BTW what meta-delusion means is delusion about delusion, according to Wikipedia:
'The modern sense of "an X about X" has given rise to concepts like "meta-discussion", a discussion about discussion, "meta-joke", a joke about jokes, and "metaprogramming", writing programs that write programs.'
It sounds right to me! Shall we go with it??
That sounds fine, except that I wouldn't want to have to worry too much about expressing myself in good form. I'm not sure if you mean it would be a public page on COE. Trying to write well is so arduous for me, that I don't want to have to do that. So if you don't have standards of quality of writing, it sounds and helpful. That would be good to excize anything that might violate someone's privacy. Also then we could add things as they occur to us and not be in haste to keep up with email pace.
Anyway, can't respond today, I got very excited last night about a new article about mental illness.
Biology is as falsifiable as any other science and Jeremy Jackson would be horribly offended if you accused him of practicing non-hierarchical science. Conversely Richard Dawkins would be equally offended if you accused him of being a tool of the power structure. Dividing scientists into good guys and bad guys may be rhetorically convenient, but it's not supported by the evidence. Bad guys do great science, and vice versa. Robert Oppenheimer was reviled for his political views, but his science was sound. Albert Einstein was a pacifist hero but he spent half his life refining a theory that was bunk. Scientists try to explain phenomena, they make errors, the errors are eventually caught, and that's how science advances.
Science depends on the power and leisure provided by civilization, in order to develop the critical infrastructure of logic, mathematics, physics, chemistry, etc. The entire scientific enterprise develops hierarchically; more specialized fields are built out of blocks provided by more fundamental fields. You may dislike science because it depends on civilization, but the same can be said of modern art. Should Jasper Johns' paintings be destroyed because he used acrylic, which is a type of plastic?
Pythagorean geometry hasn't changed in 2,500 years, regardless of whether it was useful to the many power structures that have come and gone since then. The power structure of ancient Greece is long gone, but their geometry is still with us. It was always true, and it will remain true after humanity disappears. That's why we include Pythagorean proofs in our messages to extraterrestrials.
Of course science has intensified humanity's ethical problems. No one is saying otherwise. That's what I mean when I say science has revealed disturbing truths. Science both requires power, and enables power. It's a positive feedback, and positive feedback is notoriously hard to control, as we're currently discovering with climate change. Power could be directed towards egalitarian aims, but that's determined by ethics, not science. As I said previously, humans could turn out to be great at science but lousy at ethics. On the other hand, there's no scientific proof that humanity has to use its power to destroy itself. In the absence of intergalactic distress calls, E.O.Wilson's claim that intelligence tends to snuff itself out remains merely his (and my) OPINION.
I sometimes wonder if you're simply opposed to power, on the grounds that authority is impossible without it. This would at least make sense. The problem is that power has always been with us, the myth of the noble savage notwithstanding. Early humans wielded power, exerted authority, and modified their environment, just more slowly and on a smaller scale. Fire is power, and we can accuse Homo erectus of abusing it, but I'm sure they were glad to have it.
I asked some questions at the end of my previous reply, which I believe cut to the heart of this whole matter. I look forward to receiving your answers.
Tuesday, June 19, 2012
I included a link to
a famous Hubble telescope image in one of my previous replies. Here it is
Suppose I built a time machine, and personally took you on a journey to the past, to the future, and to distant galaxies. Afterwards you might agree that science is superior to other knowledge systems. Many people would anyway. My point is that this machine already exists. It's called the Hubble telescope, and both of us already took the journey. The difference between us is that for me the journey was a game-changer, but you weren't impressed by it.
I think the primary source of heat in this discussion is that you're determined to prove that science is ordinary, just another knowledge system. I reject that assertion, and as far as I'm concerned you haven't even come close to proving it, any more than Kuhn did. Nor do I agree that Buddhism can be equated with science because they're both observing "nature". This is just a backhanded attempt to make science ordinary, by hiding the fact that science is a superior mode of observation, superior in the sense that it allows us to actually to learn what's true and what's rubbish. Science has revealed more factual information about the universe in the last 200 years than Buddhism revealed in thousands of years of navel-gazing.
I dislike Buddhism precisely because its adherents try to pass it off as compatible with science, when in fact it is clearly an inferior system, filled with self-justifying assumptions that are neither falsifiable nor predictive. Buddhism shares this attempted elevation to scientific status with many other cults, including Scientology, and I assume the purpose is to make occultism more palatable to an increasingly well-educated and skeptical public, particularly in developed countries where superstition is now often regarded as a sign of childishness. Throughout most of history people were so ignorant that they were trivially manipulated by unjustified religious authority, but this has changed rapidly in the modern period (e.g. in Northern Europe) as a consequence of widespread access to higher education.
I don't dispute that we use paradigms in science, and that they occasionally change. However that they don't just change willy-nilly because some guy in a yellow robe says he's become enlightened. Scientists have to prove their cases, and formulate their thoughts rigorously. A scientific paradigm changes when the overwhelming majority of people possessing demonstrated competence in a relevant field agree that the new paradigm fits the existing evidence better than the old paradigm did. Scientific understanding evolves over time, and as with most phenomena, the changes are often non-linear.
The human brain is limited, and that's why science is interesting and powerful: because it allows us to overcome those limits, expanding our reality to include phenomena that can't be perceived directly with our unaided senses, but are nonetheless real. We can't see ultraviolet radiation (though other animals can), but we can "see" it with appropriate instruments. We can't actually look at the surface of the sun, because it's too far away, and because it would blind us, but we now routinely "watch" storms on the surface of the sun. A more pertinent example: you can't see bacteria, and throughout most of human history their existence wasn't even posited. I can't speak for you but I'm glad my doctor knows about bacteria.
I understand this last example is painful for you, because you feel you were harmed by psychiatric medicine. That's why I'm using it! I'm highlighting the fact that your dislike of medicine is subjective, as is my gratitude to medicine for saving my life on Sleeping Giant mountain. However the existence of bacteria is NOT subjective. The discovery of bacteria could be good or bad, depending on your point of view: Medical outcomes have greatly improved, but the reduced mortality has contributed to overpopulation. Ethics isn't simple! Humans could turn out to be great at science but lousy at ethics.
"Are you saying that "falsifiability" isn't a filter than excludes information ?"
No. Information is an imprecise term. I'm saying falsifiability excludes everything that isn't science, and that's a good thing for science. In fact it's a description of how science works. In other words, falsifiability is an AXIOM of science. When I'm doing science, I expect assertions to be falsifiable, otherwise they're just rubbish. When I'm making art, I can assert nonsense all day long (think of Dadaism), and that's fine because art isn't falsifiable.
"Do you think that everything is theoretically knowable by humans?"
This is way outside my area of expertise! But based on my limited knowledge I'd say: probably not.
"Why are you so invested in determinism?"
I'm not. Determinism is simply a description of a common situation in science: given inputs that generate a known and repeatable outcome. What you're really asking me is, why am I so invested in the scientific method, and the answer is, because I'm inspired by the results. I like the truth, no matter how disturbing it may be. (c.f. Hubble telescope)
"Is not the shifting baseline an egocentric assumption that is delusional?"
No. It's a failure of perception. Our senses aren't adequate for perceiving very slow change, and this exactly the type of area in which science excels. The only reason we even KNOW that our baseline has shifted is because of science, specifically Jeremy Jackson's science in this case.
"I feel as though when I question your ideas you get pissed off or hurt."
I'm neither. Really! I believe my arguments seem paradoxical and conflicted to you but I assure you that vice versa is also the case. From my point of view, humans are both capable of grasping the truth and capable of willfully ignoring it. I wouldn't call that a paradox but I might call it poetic justice.
"If you send me your ideas you should also be willing to consider my ideas."
I do consider them! I just don't agree with them. I also feel that in certain cases they lack sufficient justification or assert unsound reasoning, but this could just be a problem of rhetoric. I'm used to defending my ideas tenaciously and in excruciating detail, after years of practice.
"If I can change, or you can change, anything can."
Lots of things can't change, on all scales, from your (and my) mortality to the destruction of earth by the sun in approximately one billion years from now. The average mammal exists for a million years. So far we've managed 100,000 years, a mere tenth of the average. What is it exactly that you hope for? Another 900,000 years? Do you wish for a kinder, gentler period in human history? If so, how long would you expect it to last? Is there any precedent for it in human history? In non-human history? All species survive by some combination of competition and cooperation. Some have it easier than others. Many parasites are born, live their entire lives, and die of old age entirely enclosed in food (e.g. many of the bacteria in your body). Should we be jealous of this? Or should we feel lucky? I feel lucky!
"This entry has no concept of what Buddhism is about."
You make it sound like there's one definition of Buddhism but that's demonstrably not the case. Anyway that which is asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence. I'm not threatened by Buddhism, I just find it absurd and boring, an insult to my intelligence. I'd much rather look at the images from the Hubble telescope. If those images don't inspire humility, I don't know what will.
If devastation is the price we have to pay for trying to face the truth, in my view it was definitely worth it. I have no regrets. I like your new idea from last night: I should be publicly defending science since I feel so strongly about it! Like Richard Dawkins on acid.
You're confusing science with the ethics of its application. We've gone over this before. Quantum mechanics is sound science. That doesn't necessarily mean it's a good idea to build a hydrogen bomb, or a nuclear reactor for that matter. On the other hand nuclear reactors could help slow climate change. Things aren't simple, no matter how much we'd like them to be.
Anyway humans have been geoengineering all along. Aboriginal societies drastically modified their environment via fire and predation. Climate change IS geoengineering, it's just UNINTENTIONAL geoengineering. The main problem (or advantage?) of geoengineering is that it's unlikely to work quickly or completely enough to avoid the collapse of civilization.
Buddhism is the opposite of narcissism. This entry has no concept of what
buddhism is about. There is NOTHING comforting about buddhism. Buddism is
realism and humility. Buddhism is just as much about truth as science is, but
unlike science, Buddhism doesn't exclude things from the field of inquiry, or
pretend to be objective or value free, when there is no such thing.
"All religions, including Buddhism, stem from our narcissistic wish to believe that the universe was created for our benefit, as a stage for our spiritual quests. In contrast, science tells us that we are incidental, accidental. Far from being the raison d'être of the universe, we appeared through sheer happenstance, and we could vanish in the same way. This is not a comforting viewpoint, but science, unlike religion, seeks truth regardless of how it makes us feel. Buddhism raises radical questions about our inner and outer reality, but it is finally not radical enough to accommodate science's disturbing perspective. The remaining question is whether any form of spirituality can."
Excerpted from a post titled "Buddhist Retreat: Why I gave up on finding my religion." I Googled the phrase "Buddhism is not science", and this post was the first link returned.
I couldn't disagree more, sorry to say. Our positions seem totally irreconcilable.
"humans have thought structures that they mistake for reality, i.e. they think their brain is a non-distorting medium that transmits full reality, and this produces delusion."
You're either misunderstanding science, or possibly confusing science with something else. This position doesn't square with the accepted definition of science, or with my personal experience of science. Science is "a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe." [Wikipedia] But I've already stated this previously, and restating it is unlikely to help matters.
"So real Buddhism is its own kind of science, and critiques scientific positivism as a thinking structure that is delusional."
I don't accept Buddhism as any kind of science, because it's not falsifiable.
"I think determinism is one of those thought structure delusions."
Again it's a dead end. I like to use the example of bacteria in bottle. Assuming an unlimited supply of nutrients, the bacteria will fill the bottle and choke on their own waste, every time. In fact we rely on this deterministic outcome to make alcohol. In science, determinism isn't a philosophy, it's simply a description of a situation in which the output for a given set of inputs is known and repeatable.
"We can't imagine how we could have failed to come into being."
Individuals may believe this but it has nothing whatever to do with science. Physics and astronomy routinely explore situations in which we couldn't and wouldn't have existed. Genetics proves conclusively that evolution doesn't converge on anything except fitness for prevailing conditions. There is no top or bottom, and malignancy is as natural as anything else. Life evolved from bacteria, and regardless of what people do or don't do, life will return to bacteria: only the timing is in doubt.
"But the problem is that determinism leaves us totally helpless,"
Not really. Unlike the bacteria in the bottle, we can choose not to choke on our own waste. The outcome is only determined on the macro timescale, i.e. hundreds of millions of years. As I tried to express in "Less," the main variable in play is the degree of suffering we're willing to inflict on future generations. My personal point of view is--and has always been--that humans are quite capable of inflicting maximal suffering on future generations. Recent events provide plenty of support for my position, but that doesn't make it deterministic.
Monday, June 18, 2012
I think that generally, a delusion is that we see content, but don't see structure (the higher level).
For instance, people see individuals (content) as producing the social structure (which again is a self-centered idea) but don't see how social structure produces individuals as content. Similar to seeing themselves as choosing the technologies they use. Structural change would produce different human behavior. So I don't think human nature should be inferred by how people behave in the structure we're in.
(Which is all the ridiculous critiques of digital addiction that call for people to simply choose to limit use.)
Seeing technology as a neutral tool is similar to seeing our thinking structures as media that don't produce perception, but simply transmit reality.
So I guess this all goes to the delusion produced by the hidden power of structure, and how you can't intervene at the level of content, because structure is stronger than content.
Well, this is my monologue of after thoughts to our conversation.
I was thinking about an idea about translating the stock market index number into musical tones so that you could hear the stock market. Also about generating a video representation of the stock market, almost like a medical machine that records heart beat, having that line going across the screen. It would sound really different at different "resolutions" like a day, versus a year, a decade, etc. It would smooth out the longer the period covered I guess. There are archives of all the stock market data. If there was a database, then you could set conditions for playing the data as music and image, like range of date, frequency of sample (i.e.1x day), and range of tones from high to low that numbers would be interpellated to. It is a historic time line, as well as a melody line.
Thinking of it as a kind of life sign of the market. The idea was that this might be the sound and background for a "stock market rain dance".
I was wondering if you would be at all interested in exploring this idea.
I'm thinking about doing an Into Collapse event in October.
The other thing is that after our conversation the other night I thought alot about the influence of thought structures, and the thing about Buddhism isn't spiritualism at all, it's about becoming conscious of the role of unconscious thought structures, that humans have thought structures that they mistake for reality, i.e. they think their brain is a non-distorting medium that transmits full reality, and this produces delusion. Buddhism is becoming aware of the mind itself and the delusions it produces. So real buddism is its own kind of science, and critiques scientific positivism as a thinking structure that is delusional. That doesn't mean it's not useful to employ those thinking structures for particular purposes, but in the larger sense, both scientific positivism and mainstream economics are delusional. I'm really interested in the kinds of delusions that our thinking structures produce, the migrating baseline being one example (using our own birth as the beginning of time.) ("Neurotic" delusions are from generalizing the family conditions we were born into as universal rules of existence.)
I also felt aware of very powerful structuring ideas that you use around individualism, dichotomizing and determinism. I think determinism is one of those thought structure delusions.
I think it starts out with delusion that the present is an inevitable determined outcome. There could have been no other present conditions that what is. Like mind centering around the present and inferring everything else from that reference point. The present is natural and inevitable. Everything led up to this and could only have lead up to this. No other outcome was possible.
From thinking of the present as an inevitable outcome, the past process is inferred as a deterministic process that had to lead to the present, and from this is projected a determined future. Since humans participated in this process, then humans must also be determined, because if humans didn't have a determining essence, then the whole process couldn't be determined.
So the outcome of a kind of "self-centered" intuitive notion that I and the here and now are the only thing that could possibly have existed, comes a whole deterministic vision. I think it comes of out a delusion based on the protection of the sense of self. We can't imagine how we could have failed to come into being.
But the problem is that determinism leaves us totally helpless, trapped, complicit, even against our will. It leads to hopelessness, guilt, and anger. Like any trapped animal.
So I think it's really interesting and important to try to become conscious of the way we as humans structure our perception of reality, and continually transcend our brain structures, and by doing this, and only by doing this, do we actually become free. Human freedom is only a potentiality of our intelligence.
What's called spiritualism is really just the accurate perception that everything is interconnected, and denying that is the delusion of technological progress.
So to me the Buddhist perspective is really about becoming more realistic.
Thursday, June 14, 2012
Antihumanism is a relatively new philosophy, which emerged along with critique of industrialism in the modern era, particularly after WWI. Antihumanism gathered strength from the nihilism of post-1960s counterculture and is now evolving rapidly, so there's already a wide spectrum. At the moderate end are mainstream novelists such as Kurt Vonnegut ("Breakfast of Champions"), Margaret Atwood ("Oryx and Crake"), and Paul Theroux ("O-Zone"). All of these books contain antihuman concepts and observations, though their authors probably wouldn't use the word. There are also many antihuman movies, too many to list, but at a minimum "Eraserhead" by David Lynch, "THX-1138" by George Lucas, and "Soylent Green" should be mentioned. At the extreme end are actual organizations such as The Church of Euthanasia, VHEMT (Voluntary Human Extinction Movement), and GLF (Gaia Liberation Front).
In the sciences antihumanism is usually expressed by paleontologists and biologists, and increasingly by climate scientists. Some current examples are Jeremy Jackson and Kevin Anderson (see links below). Edward O. Wilson is best known for his work on biological diversity, but he was also the first biologist to seriously propose that intelligence snuffs itself out, and that this solves Fermi's paradox: we don't receive messages from the stars because by the time an alien life form has enough power to transmit that far, it's already on the threshold of annihilating itself, and the odds of its brief blaze of glory lining up with ours are infinitesimal. This is closely related to the view that life (particularly human life) creates short-term order at the cost of accelerating the entropy of its environment, in stark contrast to the idealistic Gaia theory. For example paleontologist Peter Ward's "Medea Hypothesis" demolishes the notion that life is self-regulating, and compares life to a drunk stumbling around in a darkened room.
Antihumanism can be usefully contrasted with humanism. Humanism derives from the ancient Greek notion that man is the measure of all things, and that without human existence nothing would have value. Concealed within this is the assumption that only humans experience value. This assumption has no basis in biology, but is nonetheless one of the pillars of modern civilization, because it provides justification for extermination of other species. The denial of intrinsic value to non-human life is the essence of speciesism, and is closely related to the dogma of dominion, i.e. that it's man's destiny to subjugate all other living things (a concept that Edward O. Wilson attacked in his "Consilience").
Beyond humanism is transhumanism, sometimes known as futurism or extropianism. This is the belief that not only is man the measure of all things, but the only part of him that matters is his mind, and the sooner his mind is freed from the limitations of biology the better. The moderate form is life extension and cryogenics, while the extreme form is downloading human intelligence into robots and conquering outer space, like the Daleks on Dr. Who. Famous transhumanists include Ray Kurzweil, and Stephen Hawking who recently stated that humanity's only hope is to escape to other planets before we destroy this one. Antihumanists regard transhumanists as archenemies, due to their flagrant unconcern for non-humans. From the antihuman point of view, transhumanism bears a striking resemblance to Christianity. Both are escapist, characterized by unshakable belief that humans belong somewhere else, i.e. Heaven/Outer Space. Both express contempt for biology, e.g. Catholic repression of sexuality, and transhumanist use of derogatory terms such as meatspace. Both are motivated by fear of death, and presumably of life too, since one engenders the other (literally via natural selection). Both reject the limits of existence on earth, and promulgate a fantasy that justifies exceeding those limits. The danger isn't that the fantasy will be realized, but that deluded people will make earth unsuitable for life far sooner than would have otherwise been the case.
Unlike mere misanthropy, antihumanism is distinguished by reverence for non-human life. Biological diversity is considered an axiomatic value, and contrasted with the ugliness and sterility of human monoculture. Earth is described as a "wrecked planet" (Kurt Vonnegut), and various measures are called for to prevent further damage, the most obvious being drastic reduction or elimination of the human population. The pre-human fecundity of earth is idolized, and provides a reference for demonstrating impoverishment of ecosystems. This relates to the shifting baseline syndrome posited by Jeremy Jackson and others, in which each successive generation wrongly assumes the degree of biological diversity they observe was also seen in previous generations.
The central paradox of antihumanism is that humans evolved, and are therefore no more or less natural than any other living thing. Stephen Jay Gould argued convincingly that evolution doesn't converge on anything except fitness for conditions: there are no good or bad organisms, just ones that survive, and mostly ones that don't. Richard Dawkins went even further and described organisms as mere transport for genes, in which case the DNA we share with all other eukaryotes is the winner, regardless of what humans do. One proposed resolution is that humans are malignant life, as argued by A. Kent MacDougall in "Humans As Cancer". This sidesteps the problem however, because cancer is also natural, and closely related to viruses. The higher-order question is ethical: why is malignancy bad, and from what point of view is its badness determined?
The paradox of human naturalness could possibly be resolved by arguing that sentience is not intelligence but the ability to feel pain and pleasure. What distinguishes humans from other primates is the existential suffering that results from self-knowledge, particularly fear of death. Since humans have such capacity for suffering, we should have equally developed empathy, but instead we succumb to corruption, creating hellish conditions for humans and non-humans alike. Thus despite our naturalness, humans can and should be blamed for wrecking the planet, precisely because we're capable of feeling remorse for having done so. If we're unable to reform ourselves, as seems increasingly to be the case, we should have the decency to step aside and give other organisms a chance. Apes might re-evolve back into us, but they might not, and either way it won't be our fault.
Dan Miller: "A REALLY Inconvenient Truth"
Peter Ward (The Medea Hypothesis):
Professor Kevin Anderson, Tyndall Centre for Climate Research - Climate Change: Going Beyond Dangerous
Brave New Ocean - Jeremy Jackson
Church of Euthanasia
The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement