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Monday, September 5, 2011

Essays for Time: Life's Learning Odyssey

—HUMANITY, LIMPING ON PARADE—
We’re an idealistic bunch, we humans (you know who you are). Pachyderms, meanwhile, are quite a bit more grounded. While I do believe in the vast potential of the human spirit, at the same time I also believe in the derelict ineptitude of our species as we report at this point in time.

Our advances over the past century have catapulted us into realms which throughout history have been far out of our reach. And yet consider with all the technologies we’ve realized with microchips, satellites, vaccines… turn on the TV and we can’t hide our underbelly, which at its best is the leaders of the most accomplished nation on Earth unable to figure out how money works. I don’t know how it works either, so I guess that qualifies me to be a senator. These people go through policies, protocols, committees, sub-committees, hearings, studies, subterranean committees, focus groups, surveys, political science, law school, and they bathe themselves in economics. But nobody can figure out how to balance a ledger. You’d think an astute astrophysicist somewhere would save us all by providing the proper intricate formula, divided by e-squared in a Petri dish for the win. Because we know so much, and stuff. Our leaders are a reflection of us. Their bumbling is an indication of all our limitations. The only key differences between politicians and the public are the level of scrutiny and the ability to mess things up more with greater funding.

And faltering politics is only one speck on the shore of our fallacy. Let’s take another one of the crown jewels of life: energy. We’ve been relying on oil and coal at different times for the last hundred years, and they’ve grown out of either their usefulness, availability or affordability, so why hasn’t a scientific alternative been found? Science says it has the answers, but these claims would appear to be premature in some of the key areas where we need science to come through. Perhaps we don’t quite know as much as we think we do. Gasoline has been refined to the nth degree since the inception of the Model T, and yet we continue to merely rev with other flavors, while it still remains gasoline. We’re approaching a point in the decades ahead where gasoline will no longer be practical, so finding other solutions is paramount. Real, cheaper, and more powerful solutions — which we don’t have yet but would have expected to if reality matched our confidence in technology.

We’ve had space exploration programs which accomplished incredible feats. We’ve eradicated many of the worst diseases. We’ve created medications that offset untold maladies of the human body. Stupendous accomplishments all, and they improve our quality of life more than we realize. But the caveat is just as important.

Let me ask you something… how well do your appliances run? How many years does it take before your car starts making trips to the shop? Ever notice that the plumbing industry is thriving? Is that because plumbing works so well when you first buy it? Have you seen how manufacturers are continually making their products better (new improved, ultra, uber, mondo bizarro)? The sobering reality of a reason for this is just as much that there’s such a long way still to go as it is that we’ve come a long way. It’s all about perspective.

Our character is suspect. We lie for gain. We horde things and prevent others from sharing with us. We swindle, we bilk, we have civil unrest (not to be confused with uncivil unrest or uncivil rest, both of which are eons more preferable). Over 200 million people have been killed across the world, spanning over 60 major wars and conflicts since 1900 alone. And in the midst of all this, from a scientific standpoint we consider ourselves to be the authority on the universe. Well, since the crown was serendipitously left vacated by all the foraging animals, then why not us, right? Well, because credibility is not attained by default. Just being the known best at something isn’t a reflection of whether that quality is sufficient to accomplish its aims. I could win a gold medal at the Olympics if everybody else fell down. I’d be more surprised than anything, but I wouldn’t consider myself superior.

KNOWLEDGE VOID
By patting ourselves on the back over the glut of inventions that we find ourselves mired in, our collective narcissism has seemed to rise even more as a result. And then in a stroke of pure genius, by comparing ourselves to marmots and goldfinches in particular, we feel pretty good about what the human knows. After all, what profound concepts have the rodentia family postulated lately? True, by these standards, it makes us look pretty good. Yet the universe continues to laugh at us as we try to navigate its mysteries. In the process of learning more from the time of the advent of Newtonian laws, we’ve simultaneously determined that overall we know less than we originally suspected. This can be discomfiting, in the face of progress and all. But we digress, as a collective.

Consider also that goldfinches don’t voluntarily take smoke into their lungs as a regular habit and then expend countless bird-hours of effort treating the after-effects. Consider also that our quality of food production has retrograded to a point where obesity has risen significantly in the last 20-30 years, bringing on all sorts of new health problems. Consider as well the number of drivers on the freeway who feel no compunction about following a car at less than 15 feet away while going 65 mph, overestimating their reaction time by a magnitude of at least six — thereby wagering their life and that of the car in front of them in the process — all to gain that valuable half second to get them to where they need to go quicker, which for some appears to be their maker.

How can we be running so much on a treadmill in the face of all this technology?

We don’t know how to properly take care of our own selves, or at least lack the self-discipline, and yet we think we can take care of the Earth just fine while also solving the riddles of the universe by the same methodology? It would have to instead start at home. Begin refining yourself first, and then work outward. These external excursions may be serving to take some of the attention off our pitfalls, indicating we may be in collective denial, enabling each other to not have to make hard choices about ourselves. Look at those grand accomplishments, while the elephant in the closet orders room service.
A useful government would enact the regulation of healthy food production, instead of reconstituted effervescence. It doesn’t have to prohibit other synthetic food types, but could encourage the production and distribution of real food (I know, a radical concept), helping make it more affordable. Synthesized food is so popular in producing because it’s the cheap way out (see also: high fructose corn syrup, often masked as ‘honey’ flavor). Simply slapping nutrition information on the package only serves to provide the illusion that there’s nutrition contained therein. Through inexpensive production, we’re accomplishing one thing while losing something bigger. Lesson learned: There are no shortcuts in life. You want something good, you have to put more effort into it and not be satisfied with your pseudo-efficiency.

The cruel yet fascinating condition of knowledge acquisition is that it comes with the realization of more unanswered questions that we had yet to consider when we started. As time has progressed, knowledge has continued to go in the reverse. The more we try to dig out of the understanding hole, the larger the hole seems to become. So then why even try, if it’s going to bring us farther away from our goal? For one, because we’re obsessive knowledge seekers by trade, we’re curious, discovery is a kick and you get your name in an encyclopedia when you discover, which in turn raises your endorphin level. Well, even if that’s not the main impetus, we do like surprising ourselves, regardless of the direction. And there’s a latent penchant to guide ourselves back to primitive times through reality shows. Sadly, it’s working.

We’re very smart in our own minds. From our vantage point in the boat: yep, the water comes right up to the boat, which we consider to be a very good thing even in low tide, but indicative only that we’re staying ahead of the curve. And the curve is all over the map, depending on where and how applied. Read also: There is no curve. (The curve was also one of our inventions)

While it’s obvious to the mostly rational thinker that we can dominate rudimentary species in our sleep, our achievement in this area has put us on an illusory pedestal in terms of what we believe we know, and thereby made us complacent (also aside from any relative value judgment). While we are advanced, we’ve yet got a long and arduous journey ahead, relegating us back to unadvanced status in the realistic meantime.
“An element in the mechanics of how the human mind learns from the past makes us believe in definitive solutions — yet not consider that those who preceded us thought that they too had definitive solutions.” —Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan
A civilization that likewise has difficulty with what time to call noon or midnight because it’s too confusing (or doesn’t improve upon it) shouldn’t get too worked up about where that civilization is on the knowledge scale.

We’ve just barely reached the point where we figured out how to make t-shirts without protruding labels inside the collar. After many thousands of years of the t-shirt and manufacturer’s washing instructions, we finally got there. The mysteries of the universe can’t be far off now.

Alas, next on the agenda are more mundane things like figuring out how to grow bananas without that nubby thing on the end. Or even coming up with a suitable name for that nubby thing. And then there are those stringy things on bananas too. What are those things called? What are they for? We better stick to working on bananas before we try to move on to more dicey subjects.

B.F. Skinner explored the notion that while technology has grown by leaps and bounds, human behavior and character have been mired in a rut for multitudinous centuries that it can’t seem to get out of. This is also considerable cause for wonder how inaccurate our collective proposals for philosophy are. We can’t even control our own psyches, but we’re somehow going to solve the deepest questions of the universe problematically? Us? The only species that intentionally gave itself laundry as a chore?

Taleb postulates that society exhibits a sort of autistic view toward the future, emphasizing intelligence while having defective social skills, and even worse he says, is that they cannot view the world from the standpoint of others, meaning that we don’t understand that compared to tomorrow we know very little today.

SCIENTIFIC EXPANSION
The answer would not be to abandon everything other than the secure concreteness of the natural sciences, because all that serves to do is place a shroud over the unknown aspects of life, pretend they’re not there, and hope that science somehow stumbles across them at some point. Wishful thinking is not part of the scientific method, which is an area where science consumes itself through paradox.

Science is like human knowledge, follows the pattern of human knowledge, and is strangely a derivation of human knowledge. It looks really good in relation to what else we can observe through the senses. But it carries the underlying assumption that what we observe is all there must be. Such assumption holds that the universe wouldn’t operate in any other realms or processes beyond how we ourselves operate in our material existence. This assumption is based on conjecture, and no discernible patterns. Just because. It works as a fine theory, though not in lieu of all other approaches.

My approach is not of scientific skepticism per se, but of additionally looking toward an extrascientific knowledge base that’s the untapped and informal raw data contained in the complexity of the mind, that which doesn’t fit nicely on the blackboard.

Addendum to the previous thought… We do operate in a material existence, but not exclusive of any other existence. We likewise operate in a mental existence of consciousness that has not been successfully connected to the material realm. The presumption here by science being that the material and the conscious existence must be the same thing. Mainly because it’s a convenient way to lump things together. Makes the equations a lot cleaner, and if we had messy equations, how would we form coherent paragraphs to prepare them for publishing? Quite the big leap w/o faith.

The red flag is really raised to indicate that our version of concrete knowledge covers a small portion of the spectrum. While the natural sciences provide some extremely useful answers about the material world, these sciences don’t address the notion of whether existence has meaning, and what that meaning is or could be. In fact, science addresses everything except the most important questions. Instead of enlightening us on what constitutes love, it reduces it to chemical reactions and then bids us good luck from there. Reductionism becomes an exercise in explaining away and providing less detail. This doesn’t satisfy in a quest for knowing what it’s all about intrinsically. This is where science is silent. Not merely deficient, but utterly, monasterily silent. If it can’t provide possible solutions to such conundrums, then it would be the epitome of pragmatism to complement science with other disciplines. Assuming it’s willing to share the pillow.

If we are to lend any credence to instincts, our instincts scream out that love and the human spirit have more purpose and depth than we can account for through equations containing generic Greek symbols scrawled by people with cryptic acronyms after their name. “Oh life, there must be more…”

Science presents the illusion that we have “arrived” on the knowledge stage, that we’re on the veritable cusp of monumental revelations, as it were, if you would just stick around after these messages. Notice how we’re always on the verge of uncovering major scientific answers. I would instead submit that we’re barely off the runway. A cusp is something that a salesman would be more apt to introduce as a luring technique. Cusp is also code for “we’re not quite there, but surely the next voice you hear will be cheering of some sort.”

Thus we’re on a perpetual pinnacle cusp, which is then rounded up to being the pinnacle for all intents and purposes. Such has always been the case, and will continue to be so as long as we’re stuck in the present.

BLIND REJECTION
Science says there’s no way to determine the existence of a supreme being. I find this to actually be an indictment against the discipline of science, showing its limitations. Because we don’t possess the requisite tools to verify the nature of our universe, how exactly does that speak to the actual nature of the universe? It doesn’t — it speaks instead to our inadequacies in quantifying the qualitative.

Note that while science doesn’t address the question one way or another of a supreme being, many scientists feel compelled to invoke scientific theory into the idea of the impossibility of such a being, thus overextending science’s boundaries while flaunting its authority.

The purveyors of sola science, in an attempt to be on par with their science, want us to regard their interpretations of science as having the same credibility that we apply to the scientific studies themselves. They tell us that what they say in extension to that is also gospel. But once the scientist offers an opinion on the application of a scientific premise, he or she leaves science and becomes on level ground with any other cogitative thinking person. In fact, a scientist’s predilection toward a material solution may cloud his or her judgment more than it would a lay person, keeping the scientist from looking as seriously into other possibilities. This is not to say that scientists can’t be rational or approach things in an objective manner. Indeed, there exist a wide array of interpretations among scientists on matters of life, and consensus is a round-‘em-up political affair. On the very surface of it all, we may be loath to remember that scientists have still not transcended humanity. We’re all subjectively in this together. You go, Godel.
“If moral statements are about something, then the universe is not quite as science suggests it is, since physical theories, having said nothing about God, say nothing about right or wrong, good or bad. To admit this would force philosophers to confront the possibility that the physical sciences offer a grossly inadequate view of reality. And since philosophers very much wish to think of themselves as scientists, this would offer them an unattractive choice between changing their allegiances or accepting their irrelevance.” —David Berlinski, The Devil’s Delusion 
While the theories within science are concretely structured, the application of them typically wouldn’t be. Arbitrary decision making comes into which studies to pursue, which avenues within those studies look the most promising, and so on. Bias is an inescapable part of such processes. What we do know, we know fairly well, but outside of that scope, we don’t know how the unknown plays into it or even how much of the unknown there is. We might know 20% of what’s important to know, or we might know quite a bit less than 1%. We don’t know how much we know. Importance itself is subjective, so there’s the added layer of interpretation and preference. Confused yet? If you are, then you’re doing fine.

Though scientific discovery has brought mankind tremendous biological and psychological advances, is this reason to give it carte blanche to dictate public discourse on meaning? The difficulty with science is in the occasional braggadocio of its purveyors, not in science itself. Science doesn’t make claims outside of itself or suggest that it is the only area where answers can be possibly be arrived at. That’s something scientists bring into the equation, in a literal sense. This may be a sociopolitical struggle to not give an inch in the face of competing explanations of natural phenomena.

While unsuited to address — let alone answer — the most pressing questions of our existence, science as interpreted shrugs them off as unanswerable in any other format if it can’t answer them. In short, the scientific method as applied by the establishment purports a priori that nothing can be solved without the scientific method. It’s a clever tautology which can’t be disproven scientifically.

Using computer technology metaphorically, we’re full steam ahead on computing advances, yet at the same time developers leave a trail of debris in their wake to be supposedly cleaned up later. They’re going faster than they can keep up with, so the technicalities will be rounded off in the meantime.

This is all well and good in terms of new discoveries (after all, we don’t want to always be mired in old discoveries), however we’re going at a faster rate than maintenance can keep up with, so at some point we’ll be compelled to pause long enough to clean up after ourselves. Staying just ahead of the mess is a short-term illusory solution, but that pace can’t be maintained indefinitely and be effective. The weakest link determines the efficacy of a process, and if we’re allowing the incidentals to lag behind, that’s ultimately where we’re lagging.

Developers are like physicists and biologists. They uncover the preliminary headline answers, but the resulting flotsam is ignored as if it were a non-issue.

HELIOCENTRISM REPEATED
Copernicus, Galileo & Co. helped us realize ours wasn’t a heliocentric universe in the material sense, yet many in intelligentsia still want to hang onto that notion figuratively. We want to think of the human level of thinking as being the center of the universe’s understanding, but time is bound to show this to be a critical misstep. 7:1 odds from Vegas. Take the bet. Even better odds than Pascal originally offered. Also take the double-or-nothing when it hits the cusp.

It’s a five-sense perception that the vast reaches of existence are outward instead of inward, that they’re vastly large instead of vastly small. And the assumption that our own size is in the middle or low end of the spectrum. What if most of existence were considerably smaller than us? How would we know?

We see, hear, smell, touch and taste. Seeing is attached to eyes, hearing to ears, smell to the nose, touch to our nerves, and taste to the tongue. It’s evident there’s more that those don’t cover. The traditional five are the ones the natural sciences can more readily quantify since they have material manifestations and can be localized through basic identifiable receptors. This is not to say that subtlety translates to inconsequential. It makes reasonable sense that qualities like the sense of time, the sense of space, the sense of imagination, and the sense of intuitiveness are all integral parts of how we experience the universe as well.

THE RELATIVELY SMALL BANG THEORY
In the beginning, nothing existed. And then it exploded.

It’s curious they refer to the Big Bang as being big. I mean, I guess compared to the little nothingness that preceded it. Sure, anything would look big after that. But it could have just as likely been an insect-sized bang, and only seemed large by comparison. This is where intellectual honesty comes in. Do they want people to think of it as gargantuan to impress them and get them to buy more souvenirs of the bang? What’s the exit strategy here?

I want to throw my hat into the ring here, because this would be the greatest of all lotteries to win. If it turned out I happened to be correct, then I’d go down as the pre-eminent discoverer in human history, the most influential on mankind, and I’d get a really, really good parking spot somewhere.

For the record, I’m going to say it was a infinitesimally small bang, although somewhat more like a “thud,” about the size of three photons, and it was loud enough to wake the neighboring universes.

In my lifetime I’ve heard several varying definitive scientific explanations for the origins of the universe, so I have a feeling we haven’t reached the last definitive one yet. Like any work in progress, we ought not take the current adaptation too seriously. I do like science a lot, and we would be lost without it. But it hasn’t saved us from ourselves.

Exhibit A... You may ask yourself: how tied into scientific technology is the pharmaceutical industry? And you may ask yourself: why doesn’t scientific health focus more on natural remedies through a healthy diet and healthy lifestyle? And you may say to yourself: my goodness, this is not my dad’s chemistry, this is not my beautiful automobile, this is not my beautiful life. Notice again that science sells us short by providing side effects for which it doesn’t want to be held responsible. You may say to yourself: my word, how did I get here? We can see how science is being misused in this one area alone, and yet we want to ascribe to it pristine motives across the board?

This is a blatant example of how something unbeneficial to society is being done in the name of science, for the sake of the bottom line: finances. And what does science say about it? Virtually nil. Obviously, the revenues obtained through pharmaceutical drugs is astronomical. And this isn’t to say that many medical treatments and procedures aren’t very beneficial. Yet we’re also fed medication by the boatload in many cases where it’s not needed but because it’s a quick fix and profitable, yet hardly a long-term solution in that it creates further problems down the road.

If science were pristine, then monetary concerns wouldn’t guide it so often and trump health concerns. We don’t need no bad prescriptions. we don’t need no med control. No narcissism in the lab room… Hey, chemists! Leave our health alone…

INSTINCT AND LOGIC
Logic is said to serve us the best, but as it is intertwined with scientific inquiry and mathematics, it likewise doesn’t address these core qualities of life. We’re told that our instincts are highly fallible, and in many areas this is the case. We don’t understand probability very well instinctually. We are poor predictors of the future. We’re constantly fooled by marketing schemes that make us think we’re saving money… Dan Ariely observes that “most people don’t know what they want unless they see it in context.” We vastly over- and underestimate effects in our life. We don’t recognize the randomness of some events, and the patterns of others. We are unknowingly influenced by many psychological forces, creating rampant illusions. We don’t naturally comprehend the processes.

But again, this is no reason to abandon intuition altogether. As fallible, unpredictable and imprecise as instinct can be, it is still the primary guiding force in our major life decisions and what we appeal to when the chips are really down. And as haphazard and (gasp!) unsystematic a technique as it is, we also recognize that there is nothing on the logic side that can ever substitute for it.

Rudimentary examples of instinct in everyday decisions…

Washing a plate: Logic guides you by telling you that washing one plate should take less than a minute, or a little more if it’s been sitting a while. Instinct guides you by telling you when you’ve scrubbed enough, not just because it looks clean at a certain juncture, but that you’ve covered sufficient areas even after it started looking clean. Logic helps in guiding the decision by suggesting that a few extra scrubs should do it, but instinct makes the final, precise decision, curiously from an imprecise methodology.

Answering the phone: Many variables can play into whether or not it’s advisable to answer the phone at a given moment. Often, you might be in the middle of doing other things, but based on who the caller is, it can trump many or all of those things. Instinctually, you have a feel for which action should be pursued within just a few seconds. Logic would take too long to sort through what the main variables are, and it would still have a hard time quantifying them after identifying them.

Choosing a meal: Logic gives you some parameters for your meal. It gives you a general range of acceptable mass. Twelve items in your meal would generally be excessive. Instinct helps you to maximize the experience (if you listen to it closely enough) by combining taste, nutrition, timeframe, and other factors.

Conversing: Logic helps with how to approach a conversation, and then when you’re in the heat of the moment, instinct takes over. Logic, while methodical, is too methodical for many such purposes in our encounters.

Logic is typically the theoretical application. Instinct, however, is typically putting it into practice. Logic works well on the drawing board or when developing a hypothesis in a quiet cogitative moment, but it is impractical in many of life’s situations that cannot be choreographed as well in real time. 

What to wear, how to respond to questions, how to pick up on visual clues from someone you’re speaking with to help understand the meaning of what they’re saying, how to prioritize our day (what’s most important, and the order of what to do)… these all rely heavily on instinct. Logic is the part that’s more easily identifiable when it is used, thus lending it more credence. Meanwhile, instinct goes on in the background with little fanfare.

Questions to answer: 374 + 948 = ? Logic gave you the formulated answer, while instinct preemptively went further by helping you decide if was even worth thinking about it, and if so, how it could be applied with the various implications.

Should I do a) or b)? Logic outline possible advantages of each. But ultimately, instinct is where the rubber hits the road. What is that final mysterious decision-making process?

Logic often lacks the needed context. Logic can’t factor in what someone’s in the mood for. Logic totally fails at art. Logic is too rigid, too focused. As a sentimentalist, I believe art reveals things about life that the formal sciences can’t. Very important things.

Instinct and intuition are what serves us better in life’s most important personal decisions, regardless of how one defines important. Logic is often a piece of the puzzle for those decisions, but only a companion piece, and we typically don’t allow it to be the deciding factor. Who to marry or be in a relationship with, where to live or move to, one’s occupation and cathartic hobbies, how many children to have, how to raise children, how to treat people, what path of personal discovery to pursue… Logic barely comes into play in any of these. And yet we’re told we should rely on equations to explain the purpose of life? Now, there’s something that flies in the face of logic.

Artificial intelligence may be able to mimic logical thought processes, but programming instinctually is going to be the toughest part. We can’t put into words or values how we use instinct, so how do we transfer that to a computer program without it being synthesized conjectural simulation? Therein lies the rub. Humans trying to develop artificial intelligence would be like ants trying to type Shakespeare. But we do get high marks for ambition.

KNOWLEDGE MANIFESTATIONS
Science purports that a pile of naturally-evolved atoms called the human could systematically fathom what existence is all about and put it into concise terminologies from our remote perch on Earth, by means of experimentation, logic, and with the aid of tools that we created, such as microscopes and telescopes. And be certain that nothing important was being left unknown. How does a knower know there’s nothing significantly unknown that he doesn’t know? Well, he rounds off knowledge for convenience sake.

It’s quite rational to say we can understand more than we can articulate. Science as practiced presupposes that everything we understand, we should also be able to articulate and fit nicely into some formula or formal hypothesis. Thus, by default, anything we can’t articulate is deemed invalid, or at least irrelevant to the overall scope of things. By that rationale, if we can’t form linguistic descriptions of it, it must be irrelevant. In the end, it should be evident we’re not quite yet the dreamcatcher for all of life’s mysteries.

While humans tend to think they know more than they do, couple this with the irony that we know more than we can put into words. Where it coalesces would seem to be in a proposed diagram as follows:
Unarticulated knowledge – Things we know but don’t have the capacity to articulate. Examples: Intuition, emotion, the very idea of meaning itself.
Articulated knowledge – Things we know and can articulate. Example: Material world.
Presumed knowledge – Things we presume to be knowledge that aren’t. We don’t know which things these are. (Thus unarticulated and articulated have blurred boundaries with this category)
Unknown – Things we don’t know and recognize that we don’t know.

Thus, science presumes humans can have a true handle on knowledge while also presuming that it is all able to be articulated. Science claims more than it knows in articulation and disregards other parts among unarticulation that we do know, so it’s an interesting trade-off.
“You know that you feel much more / than you ever have the words for” —The Language of Life (Everything But the Girl)
Science is an expanding yet still closed system that serves an important yet isolated purpose that cannot escape articulated knowledge. Science always demands a firm explanation, a workable theory within the parameters of testable logic. However, such parameters could never hope to define or circumscribe reason. The ultimate basis for inquiry must be higher than one of expediency. Truth has no allegiance to a correlation with situational concerns.

Spiritual thought represents an open system, and is actually less of a system than it is a process. It maintains an open-minded approach without discounting possibilities and is a more measured approach that displays a recognition than humans don’t currently possess the specific tools to pinpoint what life is all about — that the universe isn’t going to line up neatly for us to examine all its intricacies. And ultimately spirituality proposes that clues to existence reside within us, noticeable by means of self-discovery. Interesting that the most complex system we’ve come across in the universe is ourselves. In an expansive universe of eons and eons of galaxy real estate, we don’t even have to go one inch to find it. Pale blue dot, my eye…

And we’re living this complexity. We see it and feel it. Indeed, life outside of us is not as consequential. If galaxies crumble and disintegrate apart from sentience at some point, it’s of no consequence. In fact, apart from sentience, nothing carries any meaning.

Conscious, reasoning, emotive humans are what could be said to be the hub of life, around which everything else revolves (though our understanding isn’t necessarily as a result of this). Of course, we haven’t seen the complexity of everything, but simply these are where the clues are pointing. All clues ultimately come back around to life and intelligence, not to material or to space or time.

Emotions are often biologically reasoned away as nothing more than evolutionary survival instincts. But doesn’t survival speak to the very core of existence? Does it only have to concern physical survival? Just a thought. Maybe we should be taking the gamut of emotions more seriously, and relying on more senses.

The natural sciences, by definition, are limited within the scope of the material world. And yet scientists will casually extend that scope with the caveat of “and nothing else is equipped to explore the areas that science doesn’t cover.” Ergo, to them science doesn’t hold certain answers of existence, but neither does any other discipline of inquiry.

But there’s an even more cunning undercurrent which purports “We don’t know the answer, but we know it doesn’t exist in religion either.” Think of what science is leaving out by not exploring the most important questions of our existence. It’s saying “we’re not going there, nor should anyone else.” Essentially, science as applied is saying that trying to discover God is an exercise in futility and isn’t worth the effort, so no one should bother with such questions. What?

Now tell me how that dismissal can be arrived at, scientifically or otherwise. This is a case of the practitioners of science inserting their own personal editorializing outside of the realm of science, under the auspices of science. Thus they have integrated the philosophy of science with the natural sciences when it’s convenient for them to do so, pretending that it’s part and parcel of the natural sciences. This is the Hitchens gang in all their glory. They want to have their cake, eat it too, and tell everybody else that they can’t have any. Remember, these aren’t just overambitious intellectuals, but elitists who brazenly state that all who disagree are idiots.

Isn’t it wonderful to be at such a level that one body can authoritatively state that while they haven’t reached a level of knowing for their own selves, they at least can confidently conclude that you don’t know (and can’t know)? Somehow they reside within the narrow parameters of barely having enough knowledge to know that spirituality doesn’t know, but without knowing themselves. It’s almost as if that level of knowledge were synthetically produced. The odds of landing within that thin sliver by happenstance are astronomically low. But the much greater likelihood is that such a body consciously postured themselves there.

AT A LOSS FOR WORDS
In terms of what can or cannot be adequately described linguistically, note that our language has not progressed appreciably in this area since its inception. We are still at a loss for suitable terminology to express a great deal of what we internalize. Not a good track record covering upwards of 15 centuries, indicative that words do have their real limitations. And the disciplines that rely on words to explain their concepts are likewise limited.

The glut of profanity in modern times only underscores the futility of reaching for the right expressive term and not being able to grasp it. The two extremes of expression are through love or through violence. Love works best, firstly because it’s an affirmation, and secondly because it isn’t transitory the way violence is. Violence is a short-term rage that never attains its aims of fulfillment. Violence is merely a destructive outlet for intense emotion.

And love is where the fullest form of enlightenment is achieved. Logic, meanwhile, is nowhere to be found in this arena.

The formal clinical term “well-being” is a euphemism for love, because love is co-opted so well through poetic musings and by fools drenched in it to render it utterly informal as far as the disciplines are concerned.

What is mankind’s ultimate quest? Precision, or something else? The sciences are in pursuit of precision. Precision has its obvious benefits, and is nothing to shun. But does precision provide what we need most? Has it made us into better people?

We can still have the best of all worlds, providing we don’t stay fixated in one area alone.

Art is not merely a type of entertainment. It is a deeper layer of who we are. I’d venture to say that the beauty of music and poetry alone is a quality that circumscribes the meaning of our existence, accentuates the love we feel, and speaks to our inner selves in a way no study could. Music is organically what it is, and analyzing it doesn’t help us understand it any better than listening to it does.

CONSCIOUS OF AWARENESS
So far, the sciences are significantly poorer at explaining the properties of consciousness to us than what we can discover empirically, or through our own individual experience. Interesting, huh? We understand it only because we’re living it. But otherwise, we don’t have a method to tap into consciousness from the outside. Something so fundamental a part of existence as consciousness should tell us a lot about how life works, with the implication that among the weightier matters, we learn more by experiencing ourselves than by the scientific method. Not at the exclusion of one or the other, but that both provide clues in different areas.

Through science, we can potentially discover those mechanisms that generate consciousness, emotion, meaning, cognition, et al, but science as presently defined is locked in the material world for any of its explanations and therefore can only tell us how something works, but not where it ultimately came from or why. The entire premise of science relies on the idea that truth is relegated to our five senses, that logic circumscribes all possibility, and that logic is the pre-eminent law of the universe.
 “Analogously, we could spend a lifetime studying the exact properties of the electricity passing through a telephone line, but it would not give us even the slightest bit of information as to the content and meaning of the conversation taking place.” —Robert Godwin, One Cosmos Under God
Steven Pinker is a materialist and one of the leading authors and advocates on the computational theory of mind. Even he admits that we haven’t scratched the surface to understanding the properties of sentience and what it entails.
 "What about consciousness? What makes us actually suffer the pain of a toothache or see the blue of the sky as blue? The computational theory of mind, even with complete neural underpinnings, offers no clear answer... Consciousness presents us with puzzle after puzzle. How can a neural event cause consciousness to happen? ... Almost every month an article announces that consciousness has been explained at last, often with a raspberry blown at the theologians and humanists who would put boundaries on science and another one for the scientists and philosophers who dismiss the topic as too subjective or muddled to be studyable. Unfortunately, many of the things that people write about consciousness are almost as puzzling as consciousness itself. At least for now, we have no scientific purchase on the special extra ingredient that gives rise to sentience. As far as scientific explanation goes, it might as well not exist. It's not just that claims about sentience are perversely untestable; it's that testing them would make no difference to anything anyway. Our incomprehension of sentience does not impede our understanding of how the mind works in the least." —Steven Pinker, How the Mind Works
It comes down to which part of ourselves we trust to a greater extent in more situations — our instinct or our intelligence. While not mutually exclusive of one another, they are quite separate processes that need to be regarded in different ways. Most of our everyday interaction involves a higher amount of instinct than intellect or logic. The interesting question here is: why? And the follow-up question is: should we be paying more attention to this process?

So should art, emotion, morality, love, and the very meaning of our existence be permanently relegated to the mysterious, and thereby classifying the indefinable to be thought of as not worth pursuing? Surely science wouldn’t suggest this. However, that’s precisely what a good portion of the practitioners of science do suggest. Leave the driving to us and don’t bother trying to get there any other way.

—THE IMPENDING CASE OF KNOWLEDGE V. WISDOM
It’s fascinating how we instinctively keep returning to nature, to our natural selves. To get away from it all, we go to the woods, the mountains, the lakes, the beaches, the sunsets. These are all what speaks directly to us. When we’ve overdone on our fill of advanced, synthesized life, nature is what calls out to us to get our spirits rejuvenated. Is it calling us back? And are we resistant? Does it say anything in particular to us, or is it ambiguous in its meaning?

We start to realize that science can’t address the actualized meaning of our existence, or analyze love, or art, or morals, or emotion. Just all the most important stuff. But otherwise, it’s doing simply marvelously.

Science contains knowledge but cannot bridge over to wisdom due to its very construction. In a technological age, we continue to accumulate knowledge, but haven’t gained in the wisdom arena. Knowledge is that consolation salve we comfort ourselves with in lieu of a wisdom which is often elusive. Likewise, science can produce scads of information, but at the same time cannot provide enlightenment.

As we persevere in gathering facts about our universe, we won’t be able to break out of our dearth of wisdom through the same process, the danger being we could be in retrograde. The only way to get wiser is to step away from the obvious, listen and explore in more personal ways, and gain wisdom through these additional sources.

I have faith in society. I only have some faith in individuals. Our strength will be in bringing together our collective spirit and abilities in cooperation. In a vacuum, each of us falter. As a group, we complement each other and we progress symbiotically. Likewise, in a vacuum the natural sciences are devoid of any intrinsic meaning. But coupled with other disciplines, they grow in our understanding of what life is all about.

2 comments:

Alison said...

I'm reading my chunks. Just finished the first paragraph, and I had to google pachyderm. I'll get to paragraph two tomorrow.

alntv said...

Holy crap! You're either A) incredibly smart or B) completely out of your mind.

I'll go with A and hope for the best.

P.S. I'm with Alison. I know what a pachyderm is however that 2nd paragraph is a whopper!

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