Monday, May 22, 2006

Science, Reality and Worldmaking: 4th Installment

So even the natural sciences do not deliver Reality. They do tell us what physical reality is like, but they cannot tell us what metaphysical reality is like - or Reality - reality as it is in itself when no human, or only God, is viewing it. So I like Nelson Goodman’s notion of worldmaking. We fashion worlds that work to varying degrees of effectiveness and are constrained by the criteria we adopt or presuppose in the worldview. (There’s a critique of Goodman’s full-strength relativism by the philosopher Harvey Siegel that I still want to examine.) People confront us (and we confront them) with various world-fashionings, and we try to make sense, or take action, or make decisions or agree to disagree together. So Rorty emphasizes solidarity over objectivity. The important point is not that I am the one who has reality as it is, the important point is that however I see things, I’ll have to engage someone else and react to their reaction.

But the natural sciences are so successful; doesn't that prove how the world really is? Well, it creates a compelling picture of the world, but is that how the world really is? The question of how the world really is, is a philosophical, not a scientific question. Scientists, as scientists, do not comment on Reality. Romantic poets also tell us how the natural world is in very moving ways. Does the Romantics natural reality have less reality than the natural scientist’s view? Impressionist painters have changed the way the world looks to those who’ve absorbed their vision. Did the world change or did we change? So too the mystic, through arduous and rigorous examination of experience, finds that ultimately nature and consciousness are not as they appear. Are they wrong and the scientists right? And if subatomic physicists find that matter is not exactly made up of a substance does that become reality? By what criterion do we evaluate their differing claims? Who decides which criterion to apply?


Matthew Broudy said...

I really like the way you think... reading your writing reminds me of Fromms formulation of a Humanistic ethics..

"Formally [Humanistic ethics] is based on the principle that only man himself can determine the criterion for virtue and sin, and not an authority transcending him. Materially it is based on the principle that what is good, is what is good for man, and evil what is detrimental to him."

It seems no one can decide but the individual... You can't really force somebody to believe anything. The utilitarian approach seems to be the only one that makes sense, but only if we recognize that people generally don't know what is good and what is detrimental... In fact the greatest good is discovering what is good and what is detrimental.

Something else I like to think about is the use of the theory of the four elements in theravadian buddhist practice... It seems counter intuitive that a spiritual tradition would ask practicioners to contemplate a theory of expierence, when one of the goals of the practice is to transcend intellectualization (or more technically speaking to delinate it from the direct expierence). However it is in fact an effective practice, because it provides us with a model of or expierence which is much more accurate than the one we usually use, so it brings us more into contact with the direct expierence...

I've been meaning to write you something about my thoughts on Ken Wilbur and systems theory, but I'm away from the computer studying Tai Chi with a chinese doctor. I'll be back home in the states in a few months, and have a chance to write you something... Keep putting up your thoughts, I'm very interested where your going with this.

Jeff Meyerhoff said...

Yes, I like the Fromm quote. I’d just expand the last statement to include all living beings and the earth.

You say “people generally don't know what is good and what is detrimental.” I can see it both ways. In one way, people neglect what’s important in life, don’t know how to live a good life, (in America) are not aware or don’t care what the effects of their living has on the rest of the world and so we could say that they don’t know what’s good and what’s detrimental. But in another way, you could say that people generally do the basics to keep themselves and their families going. They function. Actually the latter way sounds pretty pitiful, maybe you’re were right in the first place.

“the greatest good is discovering what is good and what is detrimental.” A wise statement.

Your statement about Theravadin Buddhist practice doesn’t jibe with my experience of it. I don’t even remember learning the four elements. I did vipassana and it was very practice based; a focus on concentration practice and insight meditation and knowledge of the five hindrances and other practice helpers. It is quite enlightening to apply mindfulness to oneself in everyday life and see how we live driven this way and that by our thoughts and impulses. I had philosophical questions about the degree of directness of the Buddhist experience though.

I’d be interested in what you have to say about Wilber and systems theory. It might help me when I go over my chapter on his methodology.

Good to hear from you.