Tagged: The Pleasure of Finding Things Out

TWENTY SIXTEEN: IN REVIEW

TEETH, FEET & FINGERS

Author’s Note: The provenance of the phrase history is written by the victorious is disputed.  But what can attribution achieve in this instance?  The sentence (or sentiment) must surely have been uttered or thought by many prior to the origin we seek, and also ex post facto by many unaware of their plagiarism.  The point remains that the marginalised have, historically, been denied a voice.  When you are dead or imprisoned, uneducated or denied access, putting forward your version of events becomes problematic.  Once something has been destroyed, only those left standing can rebuild, and do so with the only tools available to them: theirvision.

It could be said that, to some extent, in the real-time networked world we have awoken in this side of the millennium, more people than ever have the ability to make themselves heard.  But what do we find now that the curtain has…

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TWENTY SIXTEEN: IN REVIEW

Author’s Note: The provenance of the phrase history is written by the victorious is disputed.  But what can attribution achieve in this instance?  The sentence (or sentiment) must surely have been uttered or thought by many prior to the origin we seek, and also ex post facto by many unaware of their plagiarism.  The point remains that the marginalised have, historically, been denied a voice.  When you are dead or imprisoned, uneducated or denied access, putting forward your version of events becomes problematic.  Once something has been destroyed, only those left standing can rebuild, and do so with the only tools available to them: their vision.

It could be said that, to some extent, in the real-time networked world we have awoken in this side of the millennium, more people than ever have the ability to make themselves heard.  But what do we find now that the curtain has not just been pulled back, but entirely torn from the frame?  A cacophony of bewilderment and confusion.  Given the ability to connect, we find the opposite: rival factions forming even within so-called liberal and humanitarian endeavours.  True, beneath the media hype circus and informing every echo-chamber is a series of seemingly incomprehensible yet profound events.  To make sense of these events we cling to the narrative structures that reinforce our own belief systems (even those who claim to be free of them entirely).  But what we see is that these narratives, constructed in a context of individualism, serve to divide us further.

As well as the political and global turmoil, twenty-sixteen has, for various reasons, been a trying year for me personally and those around me with whom I am lucky enough to share a more intimate relationship.  It is not my intention to emphasise either a positive or negative interpretation of trying.  About midway through the year I discovered the writings of Charles Eisenstein whose philosophy has subsequently resonated with me profoundly: pulling together various paths of thought that I had been unable to do so alone.  All ideology is narrative.  Humanity has been driven by a story of separation, the self as a discrete entity.  Science, politics, art, education, religion, economics &c. are all ideologies constructed to make sense of the world.  All of these ideologies have failed because they are predicated on a falsehood (the story of separation).

What follows is my review of the past twelve months.  It is necessarily my own perspective.  A chronologically driven (linear and cyclical) second-person narrative, this story is one-part diary (personal and political), one-part consumption (books and music) and one-part philosophical exegesis (bildungsroman).  Depending on your proximity: in jokes, pop-philosophy, bad puns, scholarly intent, juvenilia, paradox, pretension and/or pith.  Anything underlined is hyperlinked to the source of the reference (music, words, obituaries &c.).  Direct quotes are underlined and the reference is hyperlinked from the (Author, Date) notation to where the quote exists in its full context elsewhere on my blog.  Before writing I set myself the following rules: Each entry must a) refer to the events of that month, both internal and external b) include a quote from every book I read that month that can be as seamlessly as possible woven into the overarching narrative c) contain a reference to some music I had on repeat that month, and d) reflect the nature and personal development of my philosophical enquiry.  There follows a full bibliography and an appendix.  Ma gavte la nata.

Adam John Miller
20th December, 2016

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BELIEVE THE IGNORANT EXPERT

For the student, when he learns about science, there are two sources of difficulty in trying to weld science and religion together. The first source of difficulty is this—that it is imperative in science to doubt; it is absolutely necessary, for progress in science, to have uncertainty as a fundamental part of your inner nature. To make progress in understanding, we must remain modest and allow that we do not know. Nothing is certain or proved beyond all doubt. You investigate for curiosity, because it is unknown, not because you know the answer. And as you develop more information in the sciences, it is not that you are finding out the truth, but that you are finding out that this or that is more or less likely.

That is, if we investigate further, we find that the statements of science are not of what is true and what is not true, but statements of what is known to different degrees of certainty: “It is very much more likely that so and so is true than that it is not true”; or “such and such is almost certain but there is still a little bit of doubt”; or—at the other extreme-“well, we really don’t know.” Every one of the concepts of science is on a scale graduated somewhere between, but at neither end of, absolute falsity or absolute truth.

It is necessary, I believe, to accept this idea, not only for science, but also for other things; it is of great value to acknowledge ignorance. It is a fact that when we make decisions in our life, we don’t necessarily know that we are making them correctly; we only think that we are doing the best we can—and that is what we should do.

I think that when we know that we actually do live in uncertainty, then we ought to admit it; it is of great value to realize that we do not know the answers to different questions. This attitude of mind-this attitude of uncertainty—is vital to the scientist, and it is this attitude of mind which the student must first acquire. It becomes a habit of thought. Once acquired, one cannot retreat from it anymore.

Richard Feynman – The Relation of Science and Religion (from The Pleasure of Finding Things Out)

THE PLEASURE OF FINDING THINGS OUT

Now the next subject, and the last main subject that I want to talk about, is the one I really consider the most important and the most serious. And that has to do with the question of uncertainty and doubt. A scientist is never certain. We all know that. We know that all our statements are approximate statements with different degrees of certainty; that when a statement is made, the question is not whether it is true or false but rather how likely it is to be true or false… We must discuss each question within the uncertainties that are allowed. And as evidence grows it increases the probability perhaps that some idea is right, or decreases it. But it never makes absolutely certain one way or the other. Now we have found that this is of paramount importance in order to progress. We absolutely must leave room for doubt or there is no progress and there is no learning. There is no learning without having to pose a question. And a question requires doubt. People search for certainty. But there is no certainty. People are terrified—how can you live and not know? It is not odd at all. You only think you know, as a matter of fact. And most of your actions are based on incomplete knowledge and you really don’t know what it is all about, or what the purpose of the world is, or know a great deal of other things. It is possible to live and not know.

Richard Feynman – What Is and What Should Be the Role of Scientific Culture in Modern Society (from The Pleasure of Finding Things Out)