Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Midgley concludes: On still being here

The final post on Are you an Illusion? a brilliant book which I urge everybody to read!

In her final chapter Midgley begins: "we have been asking how...a number of highly educated and sophisticated scholars - people dedicated to the life of the mind - are now claiming that their own minds, and other people's minds too, do not exist.
  As we have seen, this mechanistic materialism has become an orthodoxy today, professed... in the half-casual way in which people used formerly to recite the Christian creeds, without any notion of making it the basis of their lives... they seldom actually try to live by it. In fact, it would be quite impossible for any human to live their life on that basis... So why is this happening?"

I can only give you some of the gems from this chapter, but here they are:
  • Unkind critics have suggested that this happens because the belief in question is only supposed to apply to other people... there is much in this...Crick... doesn't say"I have just realised that I am an illusion."  It is you, not himself, that he at once consigns to the bin.
  • But something rather deeper than this has surely been at work... the idea that scientific doctrine is not meant to apply to he vulgar, common-sense world that we ordinary humans live in...[but] to describe a separate, more refined, possibly Platonic world that only scientists can perceive.
  • This ambition to transcend humanity is rather touching and ...certainly not new, but it is nevertheless... doomed.
  • There is no need...to flatter mathematics and physics by representing them as remote ideals that other subjects should imitate. They are splendid arts in their own right, as well as being useful to other sciences. But ... [all the sciences] do different work. And they all contribute to a whole that grows from the soil of common sense, to which they are therefore still ultimately answerable.
  • [Lewis] Worpert writes as if all other organised human thinking - all the arts and crafts, history, poetry, geography... - did not exist. These disciplined ways of thinking are, however, what has enabled the human race to deal with the fearful range of problems that has confronted it ... problems quite unlike the highly abstract ones that are railed off for physics and certainly no less important.
Her final paragraphs are so good they are worth quoting at length:

...it is out of this immense striving of thought that the modern sciences and other academic disciplines have grown. They are subcultures that have emerged within this vast general effort to understand the world. Each of them deals with its own range of problems, and each often needs to develop specialised ways of thinking... But in developing these technical method... they use [the basic understanding of life that forms part of the human inheritance] as the foundation for everything else they build.
...we might see these newer, more specialised ways of thinking, acting and talking as being like forms of vegetation that grow on the surface of life and are liable to change. The soil and the rocks below us do not alter... The new skills are left-brain business.  If we are to fit them into the rest of life we need to use our entire brains....

The idea that reports of brain movements could ever replace this direct understanding is surely a fantasy. It seems to be a prime case of left-hemisphere bias error, tunnel vision that grows from an over-concentration on a particular range of details.
Wise and wonderful words.  Do buy and read the book!

No comments: