Posts Tagged science
I am thinking of believing in angels.
The question I have is whether there is anything at all in occult philosophy, hermeticism, mysticism, theosophical ideas, magic, Kabbalah, angelology, Rosicrucianism, or any of that kind of thing. People study it, of course, and some people study it in mainstream academia — but as a matter of historical or cultural interest. Some few of those academics get caught up in it, such as Guénon, who became a Sufi, but generally people get an interest about these ideas without coming to hold any of these ideas.
Why don’t they hold them?
Because alchemy is not as effective in the “real” world as chemistry. Because astrology allows fewer accurate predictions of future events than astronomy. Because physics has been more testable than metaphysics. Materialism and naturalism are seriously successful.
How do you define “success”?
Success means being able to do things in the world, to predict future events from current conditions, to control the outcomes of situations more effectively than leaving things to chance. Our world was not built based on our knowledge of spirits, past life regressions, the vibrations of crystals, or the formation of tea leaves at the bottom of a cup. If you want to know something, then the methodology of science is the way to go.
Is science our Platonic cave?
If so, the cave is air conditioned and heated, has hot and cold running water, indoor plumbing, electric lights, refrigerated food, and the internet.
You are making a good case.
Yes, I think so.
But do you think that there is any kind of knowing that is not empirico-logical knowing? Or, in other words, are there alternative modes of logic or rationality?
I can’t see how. One can have an opinion on anything, but knowledge is that which can be demonstrated or rationally justified.
Can I know my wife loves me?
Do you mean, can you prove it beyond any doubt? I don’t think so. Can you prove it beyond a reasonable doubt? I think that is entirely possible. Proof does not have to mean mathematical proof in every case, but that admission does not entail that there are alternative rationalities.
What about things you cannot prove? What about the claim that Bach made better music than Justin Bieber?
Again, even though there is an element of taste (about which there is no disputing) involved, there is still a reasonable argument to be made that, assuming by “better” you mean (at least) more enduring, more culturally influential, that Bach made better music than Justin Bieber.
Not a completely knock down argument, though.
No, but a solid, reasonable claim.
Should I believe in angels?
Why should you? Have you ever seen one?
Did you see how little damage happened to my car last Friday when I hit a dear an near full speed on the interstate? I can’t help but think my Guardian Angel saved us.
You could help it, if you tried. You could say that your own quick reaction time and cool head, coupled with the geometry of the impact, etc., minimized the damage to your vehicle.
I suppose I could. But what if I really think an angel intervened on our behalf in that situation? Am I being unreasonable?
It would seem so. You are adding to the explanation more than is sufficient to explain the event.
I am not sure it is explainable.
We’ve just explained it. Look, if your Guardian Angel helped you out of the jam you were in, how did he…I’m sorry, is it a he?
No. It’s not like that. But you can say “he”.
Okay, if your Guardian Angel helped you out of the jam you were in, how did “he” do it? He did it by phenomenologically slowing things down for you, thus increasing your reaction time; by keeping you calm; by engineering the geometry of the impact in such a way to mitigate the damage to your vehicle. So why not just subtract the angel part? You’d have the same thing anyway.
Look, as you well know, I am not the most calm, cool-headed person you’ve ever met. My eyesight, especially at night, is not what it used to be. I was traveling fast. The deer was just there, all of a sudden. My vehicle by all rights ought to have been near-totaled. And my wife and I should be injured. But we are not.
Hey, talk about believing things that are not susceptible of scientific investigation!
Okay, you are right. How about coincidence?
Again, not empirical, right?
Right. So I will stick with this claim: If we had the whole thing on tape, had you and your car wired to sensors and analytical devices sufficient for the assessment, we’d be able to completely reconstruct the event and causally explain every aspect of it.
“Sufficient for the assessment.” But what if there are no instruments sufficient for the assessment?
Maybe it is all an effect of quantum uncertainty, but quantum uncertainty, itself, is an empirical and rational framework for understanding. No angels. No ghosts. No gods.
What if it is just way more enjoyable to understand the world around me as filled with spirit beings of various sorts.
You mean, besides, angels, sprites, nymphs, faeries, demons, ghouls…that sort of thing?
Really! You’ve never seen any of these things.
I’ve never seen an atom, either.
I’ve never seen a quark.
No, I could only see effects of the purported quarks. And it gets worse with superstrings. But scientists talk about them all the time.
Because they fit with the mathematics.
And you are absolutely sure that mathematics explains everything? Are there not qualitative aspects to reality that do not reduce to the quantitative? Is mathematics the only true language? Does mathematics really mirror reality?
It does seem fairly amazing how talking about the world mathematically helps you to predict, control, and do a lot of things you could not otherwise do if you talked about the world in another language, for instance, English.
A lot of things, yes. All the things we do? Hardly. In fact, the current craze to computer analyze every creative work misses the point of those works entirely. Physics didn’t explain why Socrates sat in prison awaiting his fate, and “digital humanities” will not help us engage any better with the Bard. Even gematria, the ancient practice of numerological analysis of texts, was not an end in itself. Even if it were to be mere projection, it still sparked reflection and insight. And even more simply, the stories of ancient myths were probably never meant to be taken literally (although some people did take them that way and some still do). They were heuristics to insight and wisdom.
They were a load of rubbish. They were attempts to explain the world that, as it turned out, were much worse than the way we explain the world now. It’s that simple.
So the imagination should be suppressed? But wasn’t it the imagination that kick-started the quest to understand in the first place?
Okay, if you want to put it that way. But we’ve moved on from those ancient stories. They perhaps were a ladder we needed to climb up, but now that we’re up we can safely kick it away.
Do you think we’ll ever find we can kick away science?
But if our scientific, technological framework is — and this is undeniable — threatening the very existence of the planet, i.e., if we’ve come to a crisis point, would you agree that we might need another way to think and understand if we are going to get through this ecological disaster?
No. Science will find a way out.
That is a risky bet. Science — and it is very complicit with capitalism — has organized the world in such a way as to foreclose — as you are doing now — on alternative frameworks. And that, in itself, bears a significant responsibility for our present disaster. There is — by definition — no morality attached to either modern science or capitalism. And why not? Because real morality cannot be quantified, algorithmized, or productized. And what goes for ethics, goes double for spirit.
Yeah, listen, you may as well throw out this computer you are working on because it was science that gave it to you.
Well, I very well may have to when the power goes off for the last time.
Such a pessimist!
You think I am crying “wolf”?
Yep. Well, no. You aren’t making it up. You believe it. But then again you believe in faeries and sprites.
I didn’t say I did. I was asking.
Well one thing I do know: if you are right about the impeding apocalypse, it won’t be faeries or sprites that save us.
I know. Only a God can save us.
Harvey Mansfield ends his lengthy meditation on the matter like so:
I mention philosophy at the end, but I have been discussing it throughout. To consider science and non-science together, and in a whole that includes both, is neither science nor non-science but above them, so that each is made aware of the other. Philosophy is then still the queen of the university, sovereign over the specialties. It cannot assume that it will succeed in bringing harmony, and in any case it must face the additional challenge to reason made by revelation. As Allan Bloom emphasized, the concern for value commitment in our time is in truth a kind of return to religion, a desire for charisma if not grace. I end with a warning: the philosophy I have been advocating, or trying to introduce, a philosophy with relevance combined with ambition, is to be found in the Great Books, nowhere else. And a parting shot: you probably won’t find it in the Department of Philosophy.
The gauntlet has been thrown down.