Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: For Good Friday

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  • Joe Wylie,

    Jesus Art

    JC takes it for the sins of Global Capitalism, but makes a special exception for Levi Strauss & Co?

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 4593 posts Report Reply

  • Mark Harris,

    We've already discussed "mysterious ways", though I don't know I'd equate RB with JC

    Waikanae • Since Jul 2008 • 1343 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Hosking,

    'I don't trust books. They're all fact, no heart.' - Stephen Colbert

    'Books are a load of crap.' - Philip Larkin (poet and librarian)

    South Roseneath • Since Nov 2006 • 830 posts Report Reply

  • steven crawford,

    'Books are a load of crap.' - Philip Larkin (poet and librarian)

    'I have no faith in science, it's unstable' - Ivan Gleek (stone mason)

    Atlantis • Since Nov 2006 • 4414 posts Report Reply

  • Mark Harris,

    Oook! (Orangutan)

    Waikanae • Since Jul 2008 • 1343 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Hosking,

    Oook! (Orangutan)

    Nice Monkey o shit...

    South Roseneath • Since Nov 2006 • 830 posts Report Reply

  • Mark Harris,

    Ahh, Rincewind. I've been looking for you...

    Waikanae • Since Jul 2008 • 1343 posts Report Reply

  • Kracklite,

    But telling parents they are stupid for their wrong beliefs, is not going to win any converts. So what does work in persuading people to change their fundamental beliefs?

    Random and tangential musings follow...

    Maybe by somehow arguing that there should be no fundamental beliefs that are held as absolute and inflexible? I have no idea how.

    It seems characteristic of what I'd...er... characterise as modernism (in the broad sense) to think that absolutist systems of belief lead us into trouble. To say something is empirically true and therefore absolutely true seems sufficient on the face of it, but all evidence has to be weighed and valued and integrated into an overall system of thought in a pragmatic manner.

    For example, there may be elements of evidence that, say vaccines correlate with autism (bollocks IMO), but in the absence of certainty, one has to make to with strong certainty that it does not. Someone unable to think in terms of probable or contingent truth and only absolute truth will randomly seize upon whatever element of evidence that seems in isolation to support a position that they have (irrationally perhaps) chosen to take. In the face of contradiction, one retreats into cognitive dissonance - ie., all contrary evidence is fraudulent and maliciously fraudulent. Something is true or it is not - there are no other possible states, and if it is not true, then evidence for a contrary and unwelcome position must therefore be part of a vast conspiracy.

    The scientific method has the inbuilt advantage of a self-checking process (peer review, reproducibility), but in the arena of public opinion where this process is naively understood, and where the media, perhaps earnestly and in good faith, practice the principle of fair play, any random or even dishonest interpretation of data is equally weighted, leading to a smorgasbord where old X-Files slogans such as 'I want to believe' become genuine radical acts. Those uneducated in the scientific method will take on pseudo-scientific beliefs as an attempt to counter the perceived elitism of the scientific establishment.

    Ironically, 'pseudoscience' gains its legitimacy solely by imitating the form of science while attacking the conventional method.

    If the word 'truth' itself is carefully framed by its applicability to various circumstances, frameworks, contexts and 'meaning' itself is subject to an understanding of the system that generates meaning of a proposition, perhaps some more practical means of dealing with these concepts and how we should apply them to discourse and action... er... lost my thread there... It has something to do with my impression that absolute truth is a fine ideal, but next to impossible to achieve in practice which can be comprehended in terms of lived experience.

    2+2=4 is truth as Orwell famously pointed out, but he was being naive in his rhetoric. That is empirically true, but if Keats were to say, as he did, that truth is beauty, was he a liar, or is the word 'truth' itself needing of some more nuanced and contingent understanding? I tend to the latter. I love a woman, I love chocolate. Obviously the word 'love' is to be interpreted differently according to use, but in the case of truth, no less deeply in either case while my love of chocolate might be comparatively shallow.

    Wearing one of my hats as architectural historian, I'm constantly reminded by the failure of modernist housing (most infamously, Pruitt Igoe, the demolition of which Charles Jencks said marked the death of modernist architecture). 'We got the ergonomics right! What else did they want?' 'Well, quite a lot that you never thought to ask them about, as it happened...'

    What I appreciate about the, for want of a better term, 'spiritual' attitude in the context of modern or postmodern thought is its doubt and uncertainty paradoxically mixed with hope. That at least accommodates a comprehension that knowledge is contingent and incomplete. The main criticism of the 'God of the gaps' - that if something can't be explained now, then it never will be and God is responsible for whatever bridge there across the gap - is that science will eventually close those gaps and consequently God will disappear is valid, however, the 'spiritual' or 'animist' view is useful in such circumstances in that it allows a society to deal with the fact that there are gaps and lacunae. The universe will always to some degree be incomprehensible, so therefore a flexible, 'soft' worldview that incorporates mystery and uncertainty with a corollary of cautious action as its foundation may suit the emerging world of the 21st century. By that I mean, if we are uncertain, rather than grasping at a conspirational view of the world (global warming is a hoax, vaccines cause autism etc) where absolute certainty, however flawed is desired, we might withdraw and observe correlates and construct contingent narratives instead.

    Now, I don't propose this as a manifesto by any means, but as an observation. In the field of mathematics, Michael Horgan, in the October 1993 (a long time ago, that was!) edition of Scientific American observed that mathematical proofs now required advance (for the time) computer programmes to generate mathematic proofs that were literally incomprehensible to human mathematicians. If anything, this is even more the case now, and the implications of this will become increasingly apparent in other fields of knowledge. We will not comprehend a truth, but have to 'take the computer's word for it' (I use the word, 'comprehend' deliberately - one can at a formal level 'understand' a thing, but comprehension has to do with fully conscious and imaginative appreciation of a concept).

    At the moment we think that we choose to place faith in computers without really knowing what that faith means and soon we will have to come to terms with having no choice but to place faith in AIs. I'm not say that that is a good thing, or a pattern to follow, but the kinds of systems of thought that can accommodate a sense of mystery in a world that nonetheless continues to operate without our comprehension may provide a better pattern than the old (naively-interpreted) Humanist or Enlightenment model of the universe and even the subset of our technological world being subject to our understanding.

    That's all rather abstract and long-winded, I'm afraid, but not being a Christian, I will still use the time of Easter to speculate as best I can on issues of wider import than the number of buns I can stuff into my face. I have no trouble with Easter being the celebration of a strange conjunction of a number of Christian and pagan myths, because I revere myth itself that has meaning independent of empirical truth, and therefore its own kind of truth.

    (Said Queen Victoria of Gladstone, 'He addresses me as if I were a public meeting' - sometimes I can't do anything other than that, goes with the territory and all that, sorry)

    The Library of Babel • Since Nov 2007 • 982 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Litterick,

    WH, no need to apologise, although it is gracious of you to do so. As Hilary says, this community is much better at the x y and z than many others.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 1000 posts Report Reply

  • Mark Harris,

    That's all rather abstract and long-winded, I'm afraid, but not being a Christian, I will still use the time of Easter to speculate as best I can on issues of wider import than the number of buns I can stuff into my face. I have no trouble with Easter being the celebration of a strange conjunction of a number of Christian and pagan myths, because I revere myth itself that has meaning independent of empirical truth, and therefore its own kind of truth.

    Me, I'm down with the buns and chocolate, but whatever floats your boat, fella.

    Waikanae • Since Jul 2008 • 1343 posts Report Reply

  • Islander,

    Isnt 'Ook!' Librarian rather than Orangutangian?

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • Mark Harris,

    He was incognito

    Waikanae • Since Jul 2008 • 1343 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    down with the buns and chocolate

    Thanks, pagans.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19729 posts Report Reply

  • Mark Harris,

    We do our irreligious best ;-)

    Waikanae • Since Jul 2008 • 1343 posts Report Reply

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