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the Post-Scientific Age?
Posted: 05 August 2008 07:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 106 ]  
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keith - 05 August 2008 04:16 AM

As to our ancient inability to accept our own impermanence: Help me to wind down the negative feedback loop through which we’ve been trashing our ability to think clearly; and then more and more people will be able to read and understand Epicurus, and that particular little piece of the overall mess will disappear.

I’m sorry: I must have missed the part where we suddenly confer the not-inconsiderable benefits of Epicurean pastorality on the seven billion human beings all presently struggling to make the daily production quota.

You yourself are lost in a “subjectively attractive” proposal, as well. Yours happens to be that there is something intrinsic (the potential for rationality) about the human species that is worth our trouble to try to preserve. It was a bunch of Greek idealists who came up with this idea, but I’m sure they had no idea where they got it from except for the kinds of divinities they already trafficked in. Furthermore, you make it clear that you think we should (we have a moral obligation to) try to preserve it. This is the inspirational language of Socrates, of political conventions, of boosterism, and of high-school pep rallies. It’s the language of crowd-control, and kum-bi-yah, and collective action.

What this is not is a proposal that is amenable to rational discourse. In fact, you have also been arguing for another proposal, of equal “subjective attractiveness”, that we should abandon the concept of “truth”. Why don’t we begin instead by inspecting the outcome of what you propose in your essay, so that, on top of not being indoctrinated as children with the iron-age myths you and I are both sick of, we won’t be indoctrinated at any age, for example, by the subjectively-attractive proposal that there is no such thing as a metaphysical “truth”, but that there exists the metaphysical truth that the human species is worth preserving.

The default position is that “the universe does not give a crap”, there being no existing evidence to suggest that it does. The unremitting historical holocaust of organic evolution and extinction of species suggests that the universe does not give a crap. Interpretation of the existing evidence leads people to the subjectively attractive proposal that it does, often starting with teleological interpretations of the fossil record. Even one of your favorites, S. J. Gould, fruitcake though he might have been about NOMA, would not plump for teleological thinking.

I need to invent a word for the way you and I write, keith, the florid rhetoric loaded with metaphor. Perhaps rhetaphor will fit the bill.

I appreciate the role that boosterism plays in many modern industrial societies, just as I appreciate the fine reputation that teamwork has in the corporate environment. In the latter context, there is a bottom line to head toward, teleologically-speaking. In order to foster this cooperative spirit, corporations do not expect their employees to work for nothing. What can you offer me, rhetaphorically, to feed my questioning mind? Other, that is, than inspirational literature that looks awkward outside a Dale Carnegie or Deepak Chopra seminar.

Our mutual hero, E. O. Wilson, pays some respect to the post-modernists at one point by noting that their unbridled skepticism is actually helpful in warding off intellectual complacency. I’m sure that the sociological heirs of Derrida have jabbed at boosterism and teamwork, just as I have, to see whether or not they bleed, and if they do, is it some sort of acid that will eat its way below decks and out through the hull of the rickety Nostromo on which we ride? Dallas has already been eaten, and Ash is self-destructing. We need Ripley to come through for us, according to the screenplay.

There’s nothing really compelling people to think like scientists, but the facts of the physical world will continue to pile up on them, and the choices will be between acknowledging and denying those. The ancient prescriptions of Epicurus fit well into a sparse and agrarian countryside, and into an urban polity limited in its environmental destructiveness, one that is the result of pure population density. Get over Epicurus, keith, unless you first figure out a way to feed the enlightened populace for nothing without employing slavery.

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