Posts tagged ‘science’

May 31, 2015

Old remedies

When Elijah returns, surely he will cry out:

Hear me, you proud moderns,
listen to age-old wisdom:
Your knowledge is polluted,
your science biased!

Markets and money, they
alone are free; your proofs
and baubles — you serve them.
See how they blind you!

Here is a greater technology,
a science of sciences: Purify
doubtful tech with indifference;
flee from all soiled, partial truths;

do not mix science and money;
sacrifice all useless things!
Then you will manufacture
wisdom, and know happiness.

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April 24, 2015

From Heidegger i learned that technology has chained us to its dark view that the world is but a resource to be controlled—and that now we must somehow escape from this cavernous prison into the daylight of a greater truth. Perhaps, though, it is knowledge itself to which we have become too attached—and so instead we must set off with science, our most beloved child, having strapped every technology to its back, and ascend mount Moriah ready to sacrifice it.

March 28, 2015

The Buddha has said: “Even the gods are subject to samsara.” But i say unto you: even our scientists and their truths are in thrall to reckless world views. (They know not how to find the truths that are best for us.)

November 10, 2012

Do not interpret magic as tricky illusions, (impossible) supernatural events or psychological manipulation — those are but the lazy dismissals of a self-sure science. Magic does not split the world into individuals as we now do; it is a newly alien, metaphysical claim with practical, human implications.

October 17, 2012

Religio delenda est

Having arrived at the end of his career, Prof. Dawkins became so distraught at his failure to achieve his life’s goal — totally eradicating all religions — that he finally resorted to consulting someone on the matter. 

Someone: What are these religions you want so desperately to eliminate?

Prof. Dawkins: Those that are poisoning the world with their outdated moralities and destructive certainties! Those that brainwash children and the weak minded into believing in some future paradise, so they will blow themselves up for a stupid lie. Those who preposterously claim to know all truth about everything because it was written down ages ago in some book. The preachers who tell stories about God creating the universe six thousand years ago, and who will end up destroying it sooner than that with their pointless wars!

Someone: I see your problem.

Prof. Dawkins: What is it? Tell me!

Someone: You are fighting the wrong battle; religion is in fact much more pervasive and pernicious than even you realize. These movements you speak of are already old and dying; the kind of religion you should be worrying about has already moved on and found a new, much healthier host!

Prof. Dawkins: I don’t see what you mean.

Someone: The new religious attitude is much more sophisticated, and already so deeply entrenched that few can recognize it any more, though some may discern it when the right parallels are drawn. This higher form of religion has no morality at all; it claims that such is not its business. Neither does it make much by way of specific predictions about the future — and yet it still gives people the means to blow themselves up, millions at a time! It also claims to be the source of all truth, its adherents supposedly possessing the one and only method for accessing that truth; while its preachers tell stories about how the universe and life began, adding a few zeroes and despair to the older religions’ tales. And now it, too, finally appears poised to transform our planet into a rather inhospitable place.

Prof. Dawkins: But science is true, and scientists can’t be held responsible for what engineers and politicians do with their discoveries!

October 6, 2012

Through a glass darkly

Leaving a truly brief spiel by Dr. Hawking on the history of time, the prophet warned: Beware of our scientists’ weak and crippled stories! Everyone within earshot gasped, thinking it a gibe at the speaker’s infirmity, so the old gadfly added: Cosmologists base their tales on that 5% of the truth they have so far discovered — which is certainly much better than the theologian’s 1%, but even so, as likely a picture of the whole as panoramas of Martian civilization based on half an alien jaw and a nail!

September 29, 2012

Magical realism

I have recently read a book by Ernesto De Martino called Primitive Magic, in which this Roman Professor in the History of Religions valiantly explains how the magic of shamans and sorcerers might well be real and yet something that cannot be understood by science. He rejects all attempts at providing plausible, scientifically verifiable explanations for those powers, such as forces science has simply not yet discovered. Instead, he aims to show that much of this magic might require a kind of participation (on the part of both the practicing shaman as well as the person upon whom the magic is being performed) which would necessarily exclude all objective, scientific observation. The ultimate claim is that the methods of science might always remain incapable of observing, and hence understanding, some aspects of the world within which we live. To quote this bold thinker:

This leads to a paradox — it is precisely the attitude that conforms to the rules of scientific observation which may have the unintended effect of making the phenomenon disappear. Also, the phenomenon will probably appear more easily if the spectator abandons his function as just an observer and makes at least some effort to collaborate with the medium. This has nothing to do with the fact, now accepted by modern physics, that the scientist, by means of his measuring apparatus, may sometimes influence the phenomena he is observing; rather it implies a criticism of science — the observer is dealing here with a level of reality which, for him, is not sufficiently given: this seems to seriously compromise the whole aim of scientific knowledge, which is to rationally resolve a given fact. Paranormal phenomena seem to evade the imposition of laws; it appears that the plasticity of a world that has an immediate link with human intention prevents the phenomenon from finding its place in some regulated and clearly-defined mould, even though this is what it is endeavoring to do. (p. 122)

This attempt at finding more reality outside of the confines of what science can see does not conflict with the Enlightenment hope of understanding our world through reason alone; it simply denies the exclusive validity of our otherwise formidable scientific method. (If i am not mistaken, this same inveterately curious impetus also lies behind Meillassoux’s respectful puncture of Kant’s almighty categories.) Of course, the same can be argued as a tale:

A devoted scientist went to visit a famous medium on a dare, intending to prove the whole venture a silly farce. The medium began the séance but soon broke off, claiming it never worked when clients projected such negative, critical thoughts. So you’re a fake! No, said the medium, it is your objective, aloof attitude that is interfering. If we are to succeed, you must participate, not merely observe. The scientist was not convinced: if i try to participate, then i can no longer vouch for the objective reality of the phenomena. It’s still a hoax. On the contrary, said the medium, it is merely something you cannot understand with your scientific method. Perhaps i can tell you a story:

When Copernicus lay on his deathbed, the learned bishop of Frombork went to persuade him of the Christian & Biblical truth that God created the Sun to revolve around the Earth. After hearing the scholar out, the astronomer replied: I deny none of what you say about God our Creator and the Bible his True Word. And yet, however correct your logic, the world within which you are reasoning is somehow too small.

Yes! blurted the scientist, that is exactly what i have been trying to explain! You misunderstand, said the medium: in our story, you are the bishop.

July 9, 2012

On ancient rites and practices

The rites of old might have long predated their mythical narratives. I imagine they arose in lock-step with the processes they mirrored, serving as mnemonic devices or initiations into practices which the participants couldn’t otherwise explain to one another. Fertility ceremonies and the delicate art of planting would thus both have evolved through a helpful dialectic, advances in one gradually informing changes in the other.

The attendant myths would only have emerged in retrospect, once people had vaguely understood what it was they had been trying to do all along.

April 21, 2012

Ant science

A famous myrmecologist was presenting a paper on new developments in his study of leaf-cutter ants to a large audience at some annual scientific convention:

A few years ago, one of my good friends re-directed my attention toward large colonies of leaf-cutter ants. He had heard that at least one such colony had recently developed a more complex means of chemical communication and wanted to understand exactly what purpose it served. Upon investigation, we discovered that the youngest ants, those just emerging out of larval stage, were apparently being trained by their elders to recognize certain sets of new pheromones and to produce others in return. It was, frankly, as if they were learning some new kind of primitive language. But to what end?

As we started to examine this novel behavior more closely, we noticed the ants were beginning to experiment with various types of leaves for their fungi farms; they were also attempting new architectural forms and even modifying their social structures, etc. It appeared as if they were thinking! Of course, no individual ant was really thinking — or at least that was not the most interesting kind of thinking going on. More importantly, it seemed the colony as a whole had somehow acquired this ability.

We believe three essential ingredients made this new development possible: First, through sheer evolutionary luck the ants had developed a slightly more complex means of communication. Then they systematically inculcated this new “languaging” to their young, forcefully “injecting” the new skill into passive but receptive “brains”. And finally, each individual functioned as a mere gateway, receiving chemical communications from other ants, processing them according to basic formicine logic, and responding as that logic required.

It is important again to recognize that no ant had any control over any of these stages: each individual ant could only “think” in the “language” it had been taught, could only use the “logic” it had assimilated, and could only process whatever information other ants passed on to it. If any ant had felt it was free to think as it wished, it was profoundly mistaken: another intelligence far superior to its own was (merely) “using” this ant to think for itself — admirably and creatively so at that.

Here the scientist paused to reshuffle his papers. He then concluded his talk without further glancing at them:

It is a great pity this new myrmecine intelligence has not yet come to self-awareness. Individual human beings like us might have been able to communicate with it. What feats it would then accomplish! How much more quickly it could evolve! But such a leap would require the colony to start thinking about itself, that is, individual ants would have to become capable of “comprehending” (passively processing) the idea of an infinitely more intelligent and powerful being that nevertheless encompassed them. Sadly, we shall now simply have to wait until some few lucky individuals blindly stumble upon this very idea.

April 18, 2012

On numerology

The monkey was the smartest of all the animals. One day, dividing up a bunch of bananas amongst es friends, e noticed there were as many bananas as fingers on a hand and as friends around him. And so e counted: one, two, three, four, five…! So enamoured was the monkey with es new ability, that e began counting whatever was at hand: trees, eggs, ants, other monkeys, crocodile teeth (carefully), etc.

When the toucan found a whole bush of berries, the monkey insisted on counting them first before anyone ate them, but there were so many that by the time e was done, the berries were all smushed and rotting. However, such minor setbacks disturbed the monkey not at all.

For the most part, the monkey’s counting prowess was quite welcome and helpful, whether in distributing bananas, counting the number of paces to the next watering hole or playing hide and seek. That the monkey now staunchly refused to do or eat anything that couldn’t be methodically counted was simply dismissed as the whimsical habit of a superior mind.

One day the eagle swooped down from the sky to raise the alarm: a great wind could be seen in the east blowing towards them! Everyone must find a hole to take shelter in! But the proud monkey refused to climb down from the tree top, proclaiming that the wind didn’t really exist because it couldn’t be counted! Sadly, whether the storm was real or not, when the animals finally climbed out from the safety of their holes, none was ever able to find even one monkey.