Mary Midgley's Are you an Illusion? continues to delight and inform. Here are some more gems:
- If I am looking down over a parapet of Westminster Bridge and say "Well, so this is the Thames," it is not appropriate for you to reply "No, actually you're wrong, that's a mistake people often make. These names that are given to rivers are a mere superstition you know. That's really just H2O with certain well-recognised impurities."
- A microscope is a wonderful machine, but that does not make what is seen through it any more real than the things outside.
- In an age when all intellectual disciplines are shrinking their scope to become increasingly specialised it is not possible for any single department of thought to expect to handle large questions on its own...we shall have to do it by combining several kinds of tool: several different methods belonging to different disciplines.
Doing this need not involve a hopeless clash...Sometimes ...two incompatible approaches are combined within a single life... grown up citizens - often highly educated - can profess and apparently believe two or more sets of doctrines that flatly contradict each other...At some level we need to see these clashes as part of a process...so that the best elements of them can finally join to form something more harmonious. If however this dynamic dies... if the embattled person canonizes one of the contenders in a way that makes all change unthinkable - then the real trouble begins.
- The profound respect for mathematics, and for physics as the earthly embodiment of mathematics...comes from Pythagoras...He...developed a meditative way of life in which...students could rise to an exalted concentration on the mathematical overworld...humans were called to leave the transience of nature and move away towards the stillness of eternity...At this point however there is...a problem. How is it that human souls, which are essentially mobile creatures, responding constantly to changes in the world, are akin to these dignified, rock-like unchanging ideals?
- The doctrine also had another alarming effect...a bias against women. Both nature and the earth itself were viewed as female and therefore bad.
- The suggestion that Justice itself and Pi should be viewed as kindred ideal entities is a powerful one that has led to much useful thinking. It needs, however, to be handled with much more care than it has often received.
- Even though neurology is of enormous use for medical purposes...claims to use it to explain mental phenomena in healthy people are of very limited use.