Sunday, December 30, 2012

Gems from Midgley

Utterly joyful family celebration last night as we had all our (8) descendants and their 2 spouses round the dinner table, for the first time ever.  Families are extraordinary.

I finally finished The Solitary Self which is just amazing. Here are a few gems, but do read it:
  • This story [Dawkins & co] combines... social atomism...and physicalist reduction...Blurring them together produces a highly confused ideology...readers are too cowed by the general aura of physical science...to complain about what is obviously poor thinking.(pp3-6)
  • the kind of enthusiasm that leads neo-Darwinists to inflate natural selection into a metaphysical principle pervading the universe was foreign to [Darwin] and ought not to be sold under his name (p9)
  • [Brian Godwin] is one of a number of biologists ... who are now pointing out that biologists need to go back to [a] more holistic level of understanding becasue it was actually very useful...This would not mean dropping the advances that come from studying genes, any more than the shift from a geocentric to a wider, Copernican view of the universe involved losing the knowledge previously gained about the earth on its own...Nobody now complains that the more holistic, Copernican approach is unscientific.(p23-24)
  • The discovery of mirror neurons...has allowed members of the scientifically-minded public at last to acept as fact something that has certainly been a central element in their experience throughout their lives (p30).
  • The reason why the world is so full of death is simply that it is full of life. (p48)
  • We don't have to choose between units [of selection] because selection can work at all levels...it becomes meaningless to pick out a single unit...and to dramatise it as an agent controlling the rest. (p51 - this very much chimes of course with my Complexity Principle article.)
  • The central peculiarity of humans is not their improved powers of calculation. It is their wider perspective, their more comprehensive viewpoint (p58).
  • Our intellectual and emotional faculties are not, then, distinct commodities...competing to control us. They are independent aspects of a single constitution. (p68. She quotes with approval Nicholas Humphrey noting that, for apes, "the intelligence required to survive socially is of quite a different order from that required to cope with the material world")
  • Fifty years ago learned persons constantly assured parents that their babies had no real mental life...no reason has ever been given why the previous confident negative belief was ever held (p84)
  • [Darwin] knew very well that distinct kinds of explanations do not compete beacause explanations answer particular questions...They are more like different pairs of spectacles used for different purposes than rival claimants contending for soverignty. (p90-91),
  • Scientism - the ambition to take over the whole of human knowledge for physics and chemistry - has indeed been flourishing...although Atkins claims that physical science can answer all questions, he makes no suggestion about how it would actually deal with the huge mass of already recognised questions...that it would face if it tried...although this vast claim shoots vaguely in the direction of the humanities its only serious target is theology, that is religion. And religion is deposited within the scope of the physical sciences simply by ruling that it belongs there.  This strangely casual assumption that questions arising out of people's spiritual difficulties are perfectly simple is another point on which neo-Darwinists contrast sharply with their supposed founder. (p92-93)

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