Thursday, January 20, 2005

It's amazing what you can learn when you have some time...

I had two weeks off over the holidays and actually got to read a couple of books (short ones!); one was on Francis Bacon and the experimental method, the second was on Aristotle’s basic teachings; I also found some time to read about an “alternative” to the theory of evolution. All of these prompted the following:

1) I never knew (actually, I am sure I did, but I had forgotten) that our system of classification of objects (namely living things – phylum, species, etc.) arose with Aristotle. I find it very curious that this system is accepted as “fact” today, i.e., that the classifications have become reified as some kind of independently existing reality. My son likes to read about whales and dolphins and we spend a fair amount of time discussing what the names of the different kinds are (killer whale, gray whale, southern right whale, river dolphin, etc.). I realize that this serves a purpose, but it also can over-rationalize the wonders of life. Besides, it was just ONE GUY’S THINKING about the world…what an impact! Maybe it’s time to think differently? I mean we have only been using his system for a couple of millennia or so!

2)I also never knew that Bacon took the notion of the experimental method from what at the time was known as “magic.” No doubt, the experimental method is very cool and makes rational sense (another Aristotelian contribution, logic) but again, can we consider other epistemologies as “valid,” too? Why the methodological hegemony? Again, reification of ONE METHOD over most, if not all others.

3) Lastly, I revisited intelligent design. For those unfamiliar, intelligent design is sometimes branded as creationism (i.e., Christian fundamentalism) wrapped in “scientific clothing.” The first time I encountered it, I dismissed it immediately; this time I approached it differently because of something I read in our local newspaper. My question about how many people have been born on earth arose from my reading of some of this material, and I don’t want to say more about that as I am trying to finish the piece I started writing before Xmas. I must admit, however, that I find some of their reasoning compelling. One argument in particular I really like. Two authors (names escape me, I can get the citation if someone wants it – it’s at home) argue that science is built on a naturalistic premise, i.e., that all scientific explanations inherently MUST have a naturalistic cause-effect dynamic. Now, I am not saying that this is accurate or inaccurate (i.e., whether or not there is intelligence in the universe – however we might want to define that!!!!), but I think that they have hit on a rarely discussed premise…one I was completely unaware of until they pointed it out, that science precludes any cause other than natural/material. Interesting. Makes me wonder about how this would impact our field? Are all of our cause-effect dynamics considered to be “natural” and/or material? Mind/consciousness is material????

Thought I would share those with anyone interested in reading them. Again, Dallas is kind of an intellectual wasteland (at least for me) and I don’t have any local colleagues who I can discuss these things with. Some members of my family roll their eyes when I say things like the above; my six year old tells me I’m annoying and my two year old just keeps repeating, “huh?” I suspect some adults would respond the same way, though.

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