Archives for posts with tag: Science

Intuition is a major driver of our lives. It is the gorilla in the room that philosophers have chosen to ignore since ancient times.

Human beings uniquely gather and share information via narrative. This is what makes our culture. The best stories are told by the ‘smartest’ story tellers. Top guns might even coin an -ism or two. However, I want to sound an alarm: the differences between the best and the brightest and the rest of us are not really that great – it may be more about superficialities or vanities. Some people do have amazing talents, but so do most of the rest. There are many thousands of fields of knowledge each with experts. Frequently there will be outright hostility to other ideas. The stage is often set for conflict rather than learning. A sorely needed new and improved understanding and appreciation of information exchange and learning now seems possible.

If we assume, as I think we should, that the observable universe is a vast interacting complex system of information exchange (when a photon strikes the retina, information is transmitted), then evolution can also be viewed as organisms’ attempts to control and exploit more of this fundamental resource*. The winners, all the ones left thriving today, are the ones able to most effectively use information in its particular niche. It also implies that learning does have a purpose, even as we are now not sure what that purpose is.

[Brute survival, for its own sake, obviously does not seem very interesting to most of us and that is clearly not what we seem to think we should be doing. Perhaps we survive because we are the most efficient at processing information and learning. We understand and control the most information resources. Any purpose to which we should apply ourselves has remained exceedingly contentious.]

This is what every human tries to do when faced with a serious problem and has the luxury of time: define the problem and identify its components; make a theory and gather more data; evaluate the severities, quantities and their interactions; consult with others; finally choose a course of action based on INTUITION. These processes are informal applications of what ‘experts’ classify as PHILOSOPHY, SCIENCE AND MATHEMATICS. This is the classic theory of decision making. While the intuition part is not paid much attention too, it actually appears to be the most fundamental part of the process. In urgent or emergency situations, intuition is in charge of almost the entire process.

If there is anything everyone can agree upon it’s that clear thinking is much better than muddled thinking. After a rare bout of clear thinking one can feel a sense of accomplishment. Something has been learned: a new perspective. Sometimes this new insight may be accompanied by a strong EMOTION: “It is beautiful, it is lovely.”

The ultimate question is “Which stories are true?” Until very recently, and especially since Descartes, it was generally accepted that clear and distinct thinking, careful and controlled observation, and rigorous logic (i.e. PHILOSOPHY, SCIENCE AND MATHEMATICS) would be a reliable strategy to acquire ‘justified true beliefs’. That initial hope has become frustrated. We are more dogged by uncertainty, incompleteness and disagreement than ever. Clear and distinct thinking turns out to be riven by illusions, as amply demonstrated by science – yes, contra Descartes, reality can be deceptive in every imaginable way. Voluminous new information now outstrip our abilities to understand, maths notwithstanding. Integrating it all is impossible. Vast numbers of people live frustrated or cynical lives, or with misdirected goals – at least that is how it seems to others.

PHILOSOPHY is a conversation about any and all important or major issues as they relate to human existence and understanding – subjective values such as meaning and purpose, morality, knowledge; essentially anything deemed worthwhile. Informal or conversational language is the medium in which philosophy operates almost entirely; sometimes professionals in the field will attempt to use more formal technical analysis and terminology, but their findings need to be transposed into common language in order to be evaluated and have societal relevance. The general goal is to understand oneself, others and aspects of reality, and how to deal with these factors in our lives. The style probably reflects the personality and interests of the thinker or talker. The more critically one thinks, the more detail can be brought to the conversation; more formal words are used to define imagined ‘truths’, ‘realities’, ‘structures’, ‘functions’ or ‘relations’ in consciousness and culture, thus increasing the potential for learning and understanding. Language is the mode and the means, the substrate is the subjective, more abstract thought content of consciousness. Cultural and psychological sciences certainly could inform philosophical analysis. The substrate is thus mostly internal and subjective; largely personal. Keywords: critical introspection, rational analysis, conceptualization and communication . Ultimate, largely unstated goal: Order society through persuasion, appealling to a superior formulation in the eyes of the participants through logic, allegory, metaphor, reason and emotion. Role in society: construct a platform of discussion and understanding that enables large groups to participate. There are endless cycles of agreement and disagreement; construction, deconstruction and reconstruction. Limitation: philosophy changes as language changes, and so an endpoint is impossible. Language is not a constant, rather it is the quicksand upon which our culture is built. Furthermore, one may master the rules but the content has grown beyond the abilities of anyone to master.

MATHEMATICS is touted as another subjective means by which some of us can come to a deep understanding of reality and phenomena. Unlike philosophy, it uses a formal, symbolic language of measurements, defined symbols and precise operations. Nothing is guessed at, except perhaps its axioms. It started out quite innocently from normal human activity: counting sheep perhaps, dividing the spoils of the day, or carefully measuring distances and angles. Even today there are apparently still isolated languages that do not count beyond two indicating that maths has been learned and developed through social and cultural interaction leading to the creation of a symbolic language. In fact, ‘primitive’ mathematical procedures are performed by other animals. Primates and infants use the same cortical areas for processing quantities intuitively. Advanced maths have apparently been built upon these ‘primitive’ biological bases over the past 5000 years by utilizing the unique human ability to communicate abstract concepts. Goal: On the one hand, maths is pursued by a small group who have a deep interest in all the quantitative relationships of various axioms because of the deep pleasure involved. Similarities to the appreciation of music has been noted. On the other hand, the virtual insights of pure maths find an almost miraculous application in the correlation and explication of natural phenomena and empirical data, sometimes with great predictive power. Limitation: advanced maths has only peripheral relevance to our quest of understanding the existential challenges that we face personally, with others and in our culture. Maths may have an uncanny ability to describe physical reality, but it has demonstrated no ability to clarify the content of human subjectivity.

SCIENCE has a focus that is fundamentally different from philosophy and maths: in science the problem or subject of interest, the substrate, can be directly or indirectly observed by the community – it is objective or independent of the observer. The source of a scientific problem exists independently of the researcher’s mind, it is a ‘real’ problem, rather than a problem of understanding or imagination per se. In all cases (some mathematicians and philosophers disagree), new observation under different conditions is the ultimate source of improved understanding. Goal: understand any and all parts of the world, including our fellow creatures. By extension this would assist in our understanding of our individual selves, a pursuit which should cross over in to all other human quests, including philosophy: first know thyself! Limitation: scientific knowledge is so spotty and incomplete that it is extremely difficult to apply to our existential issues. Furthermore, the fields of science far outstrip those of philosophy in complexity and number. A few scientists might be authoritative in one or two fields, but most can only master the area of their interest which may be extremely narrow and specialized. A coherent, inclusive overview of all scientific knowledge is not possible**. HOWEVER, science has been the most powerful instigator of change over the millennia, progress is just so frustratingly slow, and difficult. This might be the reason behind why some philosophers suggest that science is not very relevant to progress in human understanding!!

In summary, the major knowledge disciplines have systemic deficiencies that prevent them, even in combination, from being definitive in the answer of any of our difficult questions. It appears that a better understanding of our enormous decision making skills awaits an appreciation of the role of INTUITIONS and FEELINGS in our thinking. We have been aware of their role for millennia, but it has been assumed that our other faculties were so powerful that these ‘primitive’ animal systems could be ignored. Even more difficult are wholly unconscious INNATE processes that affect our thinking without us knowing about it.

*This is an area in which there is fundamental disagreement. Many (Wittgensteinians et al?) believe that only intact human beings are capable of ‘information processing’. Information must be intelligible by a human. The alternative view is that dogs, cats, earthworms, bacteria and viruses process information, even clouds and snowflakes – just at very different levels of complexity.

**I have, nevertheless, given a summary of my understanding at my other site with a Scientistic Perspective on Everything.

There very clearly is a serious demarcation problem when it comes to our ability to understand reality and existential matters. Nature itself has no such difficulties. Reality, life and culture is a seamless functional unit, albeit quite chaotic most of the time. Our challenge is to deal with the various mysteries

Science, and related strategies, already informs all aspects of human existence – including such unlikely matters as love, beauty, truth and reason. We can, of course debate this ad infinitum, but a human feature that is completely beyond scientific clarification has not been and will not be established, IMHO. However, controlled research has never provided a complete description of anything either. There will always be scientific and/or metaphysical questions remaining after examining a stone or the simplest gizmo.

There are some who believe that physics could explain everything but it seems, in my experience, that they are usually mistaken or ignorant of the complexities. Michio Kaku might be an example. However, their probably futile efforts will surely teach us much.

It is the interface between physics and metaphysics that has repeatedly been focused on at Scientia Salon. These are certainly exciting times for all concerned. The operation, structure and demarcation of that interface is still essentially unknown, but we are now beginning to realize that the volumes of data being handled are truly ineffable.

Even religious thoughts and feelings would be understandable, given the challenges.

Scientia Salon

6a00e554e8195d883301a73d8ae293970dby Paul So

Sam Harris is known for many things, from being one of the leading figures of the New Atheist movement to a controversial critic of Islam. he is also known for arguing that science can provide answers to questions regarding morality [1]. For him, morality is within the domain of science.

How is this possible, exactly? After all, science deals with facts, not values. Harris proposes that the term science is far more inclusive than we normally understand. There is no fundamental distinction, for instance, between a scientist working in a laboratory and a plumber identifying problems in a plumbing system. The distinction between them is merely conventional, because what really counts is that doing science means using reason and observation. As long as a given domain can be the subject of reasoned inquiry and observation, it belongs to the broader domain of science.

Here is how Harris…

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See my previous post in which I lamented that life has become too complicated. More accurately, it has always has been infinitely complicated but we are only now beginning to realize how limited our grasp is of what is going on around us. That is progress! We are also beginning to realize that our thinking about problems in a mechanistic way have been a bit off target. For this we have the success of science to blame, but it seems that scientists are now beginning to recognize and deal with the problem. Society is also beginning to wrestle with the reality that humans are extraordinarily different in the particular yet fundamentally of the same stuff, and that ‘one mold for all’ is a complete aberration.

What strategies have humans historically employed in dealing with the combined assault of unlimited questions and limited answers?
– DELEGATION to Gods, religions, prophets and other authorities in various combinations has been by far the most popular strategy, based on the assumption that other agents must have the answer. Relieved of the personal responsibility of having to worry about the goals of the community or the meaning of life, citizens could concentrate on the important things: procreation, providing for the family, paying taxes, having fun or going to war. Appeals to authority, however, are rapidly loosing credibility. Authorities will use power, deceit and intimidation to hide or compensate for their lack of mastery of the problems facing society.
– Achieving PERSONAL MASTERY of problems has been attempted by those with heightened awareness and an appetite for study and hard work. A few of these intellectuals, aka philosophers, were deluded into thinking that they were capable of answering fundamental questions regarding the forces of history and the true nature of Man and the World. These individuals have contributed tremendously to our fund of information and understanding, so much so that we now realize that personal mastery is impossible. Philosophy has tripped over its own successes, but therein lies a new opportunity. One could master oneself, but that can NOT be RELIABLY extrapolated to others.
– TRANSCENDENCE of the bewildering here and now through intuitive meditation essentially solves the problem by discounting and devaluing it. This approach has been surprisingly successful in some respects. At least the idea is simple and easily understood.
– SCIENCE as a formal discipline is a relatively recent arrival, but has grown rapidly in influence because of its tremendous power. There are many that believe the revolutions in communication, transportation, entertainment and medicine, to name a few, are somehow a distraction from our true nature and should be either ignored or vigorously opposed. The latter position should be vigorously opposed. However, attempts to define humans or society through reductionist means, such as scientism, positivism or social Darwinism, have been inadequate and have been properly criticized. It appears that scientists themselves are recognizing that their framework for looking at information has been too simplistic and should be different when dealing with complex systems.

These traditional strategies are still universally used and have gotten us thus far despite their limits. It has been an extremely difficult journey though, with persecution, discrimination and violent conflict marking our history. Perhaps by finding a better way to deal with information we could diminish all the strife that has marked our progress. We seem to be at a point where we are ready to talk about how to avoid our ingrained errors. Or to put it another way, Are we ready to start talking about our delusions? Unless we change, we will repeat the mistakes of the past.

Conceptualising population health: from mechanistic thinking to complexity science.  Jayasinghe

The Complexity Policy Frame. (Economics)  Coldender

Appearance, Reality and Science.  johanneslubbe blog

 

It should be obvious that we have a systemic problem. Questions proliferate faster than solutions and answers. This may good for the research industry but it will be bad for our spiritual calm unless we find a better way. Man was warned not to eat of the apple of knowledge but heeded not the warning of god. Now we are faced with the realization that we are inundated and lost, and cannot find our way out of the bewildering maze of facts and fallacies. Going back to the Garden of Eden is not an option.

The universe now appears to be infinitely complex. A living person could probably never make it to the next solar system, but if you could travel from here to the end of the cosmos you could only observe or measure about 5% of it. The rest is dark, either dark energy or dark matter. That, at least, is what I have heard through the grapevine.

Life on earth, by comparison, should seem relatively simple but it also appears extremely complex the more we learn. The evolving and complex interactions of sun, earth, ecosphere and biosphere are daunting. Add in the almost infinite complexity of human culture and one must conclude that all-encompassing answers are beyond the grasp of any one person.

At the center of this monstrous pile of information and disinformation is tiny you and your brain of about 3 lb., trying to sort through all of it – assuming that you are brave enough to try. Nevertheless, that 3 lb. intracranial blob is, apparently, by far the most complex structure in the universe. Congratulations! You carry in your head about 100 billion neurons with unknown trillions of connections between them. Remember that neurotransmitters are discharging into these synapses all day, everyday, amounting to a stream of gazillions of molecular and electrical events continuing until the end.

Our little brains therefore also appear to be extremely complex but unaided they clearly are not equipped to deal with all available information, far from it. The solution to the problem has been to build intelligent networks and communities, aka cultures. The interaction of individuals and culture is the basis of society and has been the means by which social problems have been addressed. Understanding this better would certainly help our ability to solve problems. Building a smarter culture would seem to be the obvious key to solving our toughest problems.

See my blog johanneslubbe at wordpress,com for a more in-depth discussion.