May 31, 2006

Jacob's Ladder

A recent article in Science & Theology News refers to a survey of neuroscience by Anthony Matteo, a professor of philosophy at Elizabethtown College. Neuroscience could be the next (and perhaps the last) refuge of Intelligent Design, a view implied by Dr. Matteo's argument:

Evolutionary epistemology is an attempt to provide a thoroughly “naturalized” epistemology; that is to say, there can be no appeal to any nonnatural power to explain the origin and proper functioning of our intellectual abilities. Yet, clearly, an epistemological theory that could not give a credible account of the “reliability” of theory in general is disappointing, to say the least….

In other words, why is the theory of evolution so reliable? (And why does irony have such irresistible appeal?)

The point is that the mindless interaction of physical processes in the brain seems not to be just different in degree, but also in kind, from the mental processes we rely on for determining the validity of our beliefs. If such physical processes alone are in fact doing all the real causal work in belief formation, and the mental processes are a mere epiphenomenal afterglow, then indeed such beliefs have a nonrational foundation….

The problem is that this argument won't impress anyone who isn't anxious to be impressed. Is it remarkable that humans developed a capacity to tell the difference between a reliable theory and one that's not reliable? On the face of it, no. After all, if we hadn't developed a fairly canny ability to distinguish what's reliable from what isn't we wouldn't be here, so the debate really must go beyond that, to whether we're equipped with profound abilities (or a unique constellation of abilities) that have no survival value. A few weeks ago Wretchard posted an interesting piece about a theory by Julian James on the "bicameral mind." It concerns the idea that humans used to think differently, objectifying and projecting part of their own skill and insight. This was the origin of our belief in "supernatural beings" from forest spirits and muses, to angels. But how is it that we know what's beautiful, and does beauty extend beyond what enables us to reproduce and nurture the next generation? The real question has to do with the fact that we're a seeming constellation of technologies attempting, with modest success, to understand our own intimate nature. Who is the angel in Jacob's dream? Is the dislocation reliable evidence of someone who left a blessing?

Posted by Demosophist at 03:43 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 25, 2006

This is Not Blank.

I can't quite understand how so many in my generation, including myself, got to be so dissatisfied with what I'm going to conveniently call the status of their "life project", when there are so many interesting challenges shaping up. Consider 150 people packed into a 747 just as some Al Qaeda gollum leaps out of his seat and starts carving up a stewardess with a utility knife. If I sit back in my seat with the certainty that "George" will do something about the situation then the legitimacy of my complaint about the lowly status of my life project should be immediately in doubt. And while that sort of thing doesn't seem to happen very often, the reality is that there are analogous things going on all the time. And whatever George does to resolve those situations are his call, for good or ill.

Now don't get me wrong, looking at the Evening News would convince anyone that they're just a small cog in comparison to a some REALLY BIG WHEELS, but those productions are designed to make you look at yourself that way. Why? Because it reduces competition. Being engaged in "the show" is inherently interesting and rewarding (as both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams reminded us), so the Georges of the world would just as soon you left things up to them, TYVM. "We don't need you, E.S., G.F.ed, and don't bother calling", as brother Carlin used to say.

[No, George Bush isn't the only "George" around. What I'm talking about is the X in "let X do it." Where'd that come from? X can be any George, Dan, or Ahhnold that you figure is unimpeachably more qualified than you.]

About thirty years ago, after mistakenly adopting Tim Leary's prescription, I decided that I needed to plug back in, in order to preserve my sanity as well as my sense of belonging. When it comes down to it I actually love humanity more than I hate stupidity. So I went into a secondhand store and bought a used Hoffman bland-and-white TV, and started watching the broadcast programming I'd been turning up my nose at since dropping out. I deliberately re-programmed myself back into the culture. The media immersion offered a kind of relief, because at least I felt that I was still a part of things, even though the project manifested mostly as dumbass nonsense like the Andy Griffith Show. And to tell the truth, I could sometimes see real brilliance in Barney Fife, so part of me was singing along. That was the point. Dumb me, dumb you, dumb us.

But that was the hump of the dump. I think the whole concept of plugging back in was sound to begin with, but I've been watching the Boob Toob now for about the age of a young dinosaur and I'm not so sure it's still a good idea. I'm contemplating outplugging, from what looks to my nearsighted vision like "the mainstream." Being a part of this has lost its luster.

My generation is starting to die off too, which bothers the hell out of me. Some of us that happen to still be around remain tanglefooted in that anti-Vietnam era drama, like Joe Klein, and we've never quite grown up. Others have struck out... and struck out. Well, strike two anyway, after a base hit or two. Things aren't terrible... but we really miss the people who've left, and what we do doesn't seem to matter much. And that's our fault, as I was saying.

Pardon the overly-reflective nature of this post, but I'm beginning to long for the uncertainty of having been born into a pioneer era. I wouldn't mind being my great granddad busting the sod for the first time, or accumulating a new herd of those red-haired blondish English cattle they call Herefords... with the Twentieth Century looming in all its terrible promise. Not half bad, if only I didn't know how most of it turned out.

But in that regard I guess I feel more fortunate than 90% of the people with whom I share this continent, because I was born on the leading edge of the Human Experiment. I was born and raised on the northwestern boundary of the North American continent, at the latter end of a million-year northwesterly migration of humankind, just prior to the GREAT RECONNECTION with the remnant of the TERRESTRIAL BEACHHEAD. It's Childhood's End. The disorientation I and my clear-eyed siblings feel, must be part of the natural evolution of human consciousness as it catches up to itself.

And we are about to unfold our wings.

DEATH and CHAOS have been stalking us so long they're almost old friends by now. This is no fantasy. The scoreboard tells the tale of a real contest, not a route. In Pennsylvannia, Smedley Elementary has become a place where first graders perform lap dances in janitor closets (a practice they call "wallies") while kiddie-gangs beat up, threaten, torture and maim adult teachers attempting to instill some order in those hopeless lives. This is all the product of good intentions. My formula for education reform: God made bulldozers for a reason. Can you imagine what the world will be like when these kids mature without guidance and love? Well, more money won't solve that problem, Mr. Gore. Sorry. That's the "George" solution.

So if you feel like you have no mission in life, and there's nothing left for a person of vision and decent impulse to do, I know how you feel. But I'm beginning to suspect that it's just the programming we've accepted because others would sooner monopolize the vitality of taking the reins.

Tomorrow is your saving grace... The beginning ought to be looming in the windshield soon.

Posted by Demosophist at 03:18 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

May 09, 2006

Another Post from the Wasteland

Time seems on someone else's side. My sweet sweet brother-in-law is gone, after a year of being failed by both Science and God. I know I have no right to be bitter, but I had a half-lifetime of memories to create with him that no one but me will ever recall. I don't know how people cope with this sort of loss... but somehow we do.

I'm still trying to fix and prettify this blogsite, but I'm hampered by the fact that I can only connect to the internet from work. No home connection for now. Well, at least you can read this.

I continue to be impressed by the level of ignorance of the Democratic Party, which seems to think that the juggernaut of mainstream media is some sort of advantage for them, rather than the profound dysfunction it really represents. Well, if there's nothing to drink but paint thinner it must be some sort of ambrosia. If the Republicans weren't so clueless I'd predict a Republican landslide come November, but they're just barely more savvy than their opponents, so they may actually lose ground.

If it were a Presidential year it'd be a great time for a Third Party movement, but those are tough to get going in off-year elections. Unrehearsed history needs charisma.

The "Anti-war Movement" is taking on the attributes of a cult. But in this case it's led by mainstream media, which makes it a cultural plunge into the abyss. Where do the rest of us come in? Hell, it makes me nostalgic for The Steve Miller Band's memo from the future:

Tomorrow's come a long, long way to help you.

Yeah, it's your saving grace

What else is there?

Posted by Demosophist at 08:38 PM | Comments (13)