Back Off Science

Grand narrative tortoises

Posted in Starting up by backoffscience on September 18, 2009

Stories are like tortoises, they’re weak underneath. The problem is that the mechanism humans use to make their lives meaningful is by living in stories.

Stories about why they are doing what they do, about who they are and who they want to be. Narrative upon narrative, from the smallest connection of events to the grandest myths, furnish our lives with everything that matters.

Giant Tortoise 001They intertwine one another, hanging from one another’s meanings and metaphors.

But at the same time, they are not merely stories. They are lived. So their importance is in flesh, blood and brains. They are ordinary, worldly things.

There is no difficulty if they are left alone. But stories are fragile, if  you flip them over you find nothing underneath. They are a cloud of fluff, an invention, a fantasy, a human creation. Stories have no real underneath, no below.

Because they are stories, you can’t judge them like facts about the material world. You can’t judge them on what they are – after all, you know what they are, they’re stories.

They have to be judged on what they do. And before you’ve decided what they do, you shouldn’t turn them over.


Battles with rationalists

Posted in 1 by backoffscience on September 17, 2009

Reading around on the Dawkins forums, its clear that the attitude I’m trying to pry of the rock is both widespread and very hard to dispute. What evidence do you use to persuade someone that there are real things for which there is no evidence?

As I hope you can see, I’m still trying to find out exactly how this idea works. But I think I got closer in the last line of a forum post –

There are things that are not grounded in any way that science can investigate, but at the same time are not magical or illusory.

As odd as it seems to me, that does appear to be the mindset of the rationalist, that there is just one kind of answer Рone about the stuff you know from science  Рand everything else people talk about is some kind of illusion or fallacy or magic or delusion.

So numerically, it is only a very small step the rationalist needs to make – from one kind of answer to two.

Because there really are just two abstract groups of concepts – matter and language.

These are neatly represented in the incredibly dry and dull discussion over philosophical epistemology. Some knowledge, knowledge of matter, is foundational. It hits bottom on provable facts. Other knowledge is contextual – facts are supported by other facts on huge web of self-supporting connections. The rock bottom is action. That is how language works.

(It gets especially confusing when there are aspects of both kinds of knowledge – ie. the neuroscience of belief.)

But to say there is only one kind of answer means you completely remove the possibility of there being value, meaning, quality, emotion, responsibility and so on. As these things obviously do exist, there has to be a different kind of answer.

And after that appalling pastiche I think I’d better go.