Sunday, August 03, 2014

More from Midgely - and Sally Farmiloe RIP

Back from a wonderful time in Cornwall, with the UK grandchildren. Then very busy and largely unbloggable. But I finished Are You an Illusion a while ago but there are 3 chapters of gems left to blog.

Her Chapter 10 is "How divided selves live" and begins: "We have seen that the claim to eliminate free will has many things wrong with it. But one striking thing is has in common with attempts to eliminate the self is...that neither...seems...seriously meant...If, for instance, they lose an important document, they do not refuse to think where they left it, on the grounds that their mental effort can never affect the world. Nor do they complain when it is assumed that the winners of Nobel prizes ought to deserve them...Materialists...take it for granted that conscious decisions and conscious efforts ceaselessly determine our actions. Responsibility cannot possibly be an illusion. "
  • The gap between our inner and outer world is indeed a real one...When two kinds of perceptions seem to clash like this...we have to find some way of deciding which should prevail. And that is why we frame our worldviews, sketch maps that are necessarily imaginative compromises between inner and outer perception. Dualism...is...one such map, but...cannot...be taken as final. Not only is the relation between its two parts obscure, but there is clearly something odd about its neglect of the obvious middle term: Life.
  • She notes how the competition between magic and science in the Renaissance led to strong prejudice against certain forms of explanation. Galileo refused to consider Kepler's explanation of the tides because he regarded attraction as a superstitious concept. She quotes highly intemperate language from Bacon about how "we should conquer and subdue [Nature], shake her to her foundations."  She suggests that this attitude  led to a dismissal of ideas like Lovelock's Gaia hypothesis with Maynard Smith calling it "an evil religion"
  • She also notes that whereas Renaissance scientists were opposing Nature to God, "Galileo's troubles with the Church never disturbed his Theism; they were essentially political ... References to God in scientific writings of the time are not ...just a matter of form... they were ... to discredit the old dependence on Nature as an outdated superstition."
  • These inner conflicts are...a crucial aspect of our lives. They always make it hard to consider the self as, indeed, a single whole. Yet this wholeness.... is essential to all our thinking, including our ordinary personal lives.
In Chapter 11, "Hemispheres and Holism" she explores this more deeply, drawing on Iain McGilchrist's wonderful The Master and His Emissary.
  • We know well that we are divided beings...Attempts at "integration, more or less effective" are our normal business. They are what happens all the time inside the "self" of which people now offer to deprive us, and it is hard to see how our lives could go on for a minute without attention to these activities.
  • Scientistically minded people dismissed Freud and Marx...Jung...[is] scarcely on the syllabus at all while Nietzsche has been safely cordoned off somewhere in the humanities. The core of the trouble...is not that we don't study the appropriate sages but that we have been deliberately deterred...from directly attending to ourselves and to those around us at all.  The bizzare anti-self campaign which is the main subject of this book is surely intended, amongst other things, to put us off taking notice of everybody's inner life: to persuade us that this is a trivial, contemptible subject by the simple device of pretending it isn't there.
In Chapter 12: The Supernatural Aspects of Physics she begins with Ray Monk's review of Lee Smolin's book Time Reborn:
  • That the passing of time is an illusion is now the orthodoxy amongst theoretical physicists... they have been bewitched by the beauty and success of the mathematical models they use into mistaking these models for reality. [says Monk] Smolin [she says] is exceptional in that he flatly refuses to accept this attitude... because he thinks (surely rightly) that this arises from philosophical assumptions rather than from scientific argument...In short, time needs to be classed as an illusion only if we decide to define reality as shaped by the current ideas of physicists, rather than... by what is an unremovable part of the world that we all have to deal with... And since today's physics is always on the move and full of unresolved conflicts, the idea of making our concept of reality depend on it is not seductive.
  • What [Physicists] are really saying is not "we now know that time does not exist" which, being a sentence in the present tense, would probably be contradictory - but simply "time is not relevant to our calculations" {of course she means time in a philosophical sense as opposed to a t coordinate}. In short, time is no business of physicists. But then plenty of other things, from frogs to parliaments, are not their business either, and that does not stop them being real.
  • [She compares the idea that time is unreal because our intuition of it doesn't agree with physicist's models with the situation on heat] Scientifically speaking, heat is, it seems, just the kinetic energy of motion of atoms. But when people say they feel hot ... this aspect does not need to be mentioned because it is not relevant. Ordinary uses of the term are well understood without bringing accusations of illusion.
  • We are being told we are mere peasants, helpless "folk-psychologists", and we may well hear this dictum as a simple insult: "you are nothing."
  • The entities in which physics deals - quarks, electrons, black holes and so forth - are no more real than any individual's own joys and sorrows... or indeed than the road he is just going to cross. They are just exceptionally abstract entities, forming parts of theories that are exceptionally general...There is no rivalry... between these different kinds of item for the status of reality...These abstractions... make it possible to theorise about the world on an impressively vast scale. But the theories that are formed in this way are still part of human thought. They gain their importance from their relation to the rest of life. They are not a window into a quite different spiritual world...
  • As late as the start of the 20th century, people like Bertrand Russell... saw [the] choice between idealistic and materialistic reduction as still an open option. But then there occurred one of those strange cultural earthquakes... making what is familiar suddenly appear unthinkable. Idealism went right out of fashion.
  • Dualism...and...the reductions that stem from it are all answers to a single question..:what stuff is everything made of? ... but it seems to me that we should do much better by ceasing to ask that particular question. Searching for an underlying stuff is a useful plan when we are talking about physical objects but it is not at all obviously appropriate when we are talking about things of different kinds, like cheese and thought.
  • Might it not be more realistic if, instead of positing two separate stuffs, we used... the image of exploring a vast landscape... that can approached from various angles but can't be laid open from a single point?
  • So one way or another, the policy of splitting everything into mind and matter turned out badly. Once that division was made...people were bound to try to deal with it by dropping one of the two terms. And that device was bound to make things worse...TH Huxley suggested his steam-whistle solution...[that] we are "conscious automata."  Huxley himself does not seem to have attached any special importance to this idea... The Materialists of his day, however, eagerly seized this suggestion... Thus with the same devout docility that they attributed to medieval schoolmen, scientists agreed to preserve their materialist creed by signing up for a tale that, as anyone can see, does not actually make sense at all.
  • When we talk of any living thing (including a human) as a machine we are using  a metaphor... no-one has made them, they are here because they have grown... even John Searle, who is usually a beacon of sanity... wrote..
    '"Could a machine think?" The answer is obviously, yes. We are precisely such machines.'
    But the whole argument is hollow. We are not such machines... We are animals.
  • Just as behaviourists concluded ... that human life could be fully understood by simply observing the physical details of behaviour, so today's reductivists have decided it can henceforward all be safely left to neurological experiments... [but] both these schemes are just promissory materialism; visionary drafts on an imaginary future that have no kind of prospect of being redeemed.
    Instead enquiries about this vast subject will have to go on... through an endless series of enterprises... [that] need to be lit up constantly by the fire of serious attention to actual life. There is no short cut.
I'll blog the conclusion separatly.

Sad to learn of the death of our friend Sally Farmiloe. May she rest in peace and RISE IN GLORY!

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