Daily Archives: Friday, 18:24, August 13, 2010
The laws of the universe exist independently of my awareness of them and they are not just the arbitrary imposition of our human prejudices upon reality, neither by way of solipsist subjectivity, socially constructed convention, nor by way of a theory-laden observational paradigm.
These laws, first those of physics, then of chemistry, then of biology, and on up leading to those of mind and beyond, are not mere imaginary inventions that we force upon nature, but things we have discovered, and only with time and effort do we improve our ever advancing understanding of these laws, getting asymptotically nearer to the truth of how we and the world work.
The world is not perfect, as we can all tell from even a cursory examination of our daily lives, but there are regularities we notice, patterns that we see in the way it works. It appears to make meaningful sense, and is therefore knowable to that crude, infantile, but useful and precious enterprise we call science.
Scientific method is itself neither true nor false. But while having no truth status of its own it is, rather, useful as a way of finding things out through its use of systematic inquiry.
Our global civilization depends on it and the practical benefits it brings, however little we really know right now of how things truly are.
The theories that our sciences use to explain the workings of the natural and human worlds are not the same thing as the facts and things they so describe, but detailed, testable answers to how, the relationship between, and sometimes why, these things are the way they are and do the things they do.
Our best thus far conceived, reliably tested and most consistently validated theories, hypotheses, models, and laws are the clearest measure we have at this time of how well we comprehend the universe.
Our concepts of the laws of gravity as currently known have existed only within the last few centuries, but the workings of the cosmos they describe have existed, as far as we have any good reason to suppose, since the very beginning of time.
While it is true that our understanding is limited and imperfect, and that our current formulation of these laws are the products of human minds, the forces and entities they describe have existed before the advent of the first conscious being, and shall continue to be long after the last is dead and gone. Indeed, it is these very forces and entities that over eons gave rise to the first stirrings of consciousness.
The thing described does indeed have an existence independent of the description.
Is this thing we call gravity, and perhaps even reality itself, an illusion? Maybe.
But you must be very careful in properly using a word like illusion, for an illusion is not something that doesn’t exist, but anything that is not as it appears to be.
Gravity and reality as we know them might indeed be illusory, but they exist nonetheless, no matter the particulars of the picture in our minds that our brains subjectively construct for us of them.
Even an illusion is real, else we could not perceive it, or otherwise even be aware of it through the medium of our senses, which our evolution on Earth gifted our species to enable us to interact with reality, however veiled that reality’s true nature may be to our limited, fallible perceptions, our biased cognitive and reasoning faculties, our faulty memories, all of which though usually dependable to a point can lead us astray if we get sloppy and lazy in our thinking.
These things on top of all the curve balls the universe itself tosses our way when we aren’t careful. These are the reasons for the methods of science, it’s emphasis on careful and precise measurement, on qualification through quantification, on independent, objective confirmation of findings, and the need for the consistency of new knowledge with old, unless we are given sound reasons to change or discard the latter.
This is why skepticism, systematic doubt and critical thinking is so important in science, why the best scientists are both artistic and skeptical.
For if we allow ourselves to believe whatever we wish, if we think with our hopes, if we allow our hearts to rule our minds, then we both deceive and are deceived, and therefore learn nothing of any real value, save our own folly if and when the truth finally dawns on us.
But I’ve rambled enough, incessantly perhaps, and so now I ask:
What to you is the relation between science and reality, or at least our past, current, and possible future understanding of it? Why?
Over the years, my views on religion have changed a bit, and I’ve gone from being anti-religion to merely a religious skeptic in stance.
While I think well of the good religion has sometimes done, and its contributions to literature, architecture, art and culture, I also think that the same amount of good could have been achieved without so much of the bad that came with it.
I think that it could have all been done without religion.
And don’t waste my time talking about Mao, Stalin, or Hitler — The first two used the communist ideologies of their respective nations as religions, and Der Fuhrer was a dedicated Christian.
I certainly don’t think that all religious believers are extremist, just the ones that make most of the racket in the popular media, the lunatics that drown out the more liberal theologians with ranting accusations of being not (insert name of religion™) enough.
I think highly of many people of faith, quite a few I know personally. But true respect entails tolerance of belief and disagreement, and I disagree with the belief while respecting the believer’s right to hold it.
You can’t go all Evil Spock on somebody with facts and logic and expect them to reason their way along with you out of a set of beliefs they didn’t reason their way into.
…And so I present a quote from one of the founders of the Age of Reason — the Empiricist philosopher & global skeptic David Hume:
What danger can ever come from ingenious reasoning and inquiry? The worst speculative skeptic ever I knew was a much better man than the best superstitious devotee and bigot.
– David Hume in a letter to Gilbert Elliot, March 10, 1751.