All posts for the month September, 2004

Not been in the Pick much in recent weeks, but went in last night intending to continue reading Midgley’s “Myths We Live By”, and ended up spending the whole evening in deep conversation with another interesting punter.

Ex boat-builder, putative journalist, everything from simplistic rationale missing age old issues to world politics, taking in Pirsig, Asimov, the county of Essex, collective consciousness, the contrast between top-flight and lower league football, command and control management, potential big-brother censorship of the web, unlearning generations and Colonel Qadhafi’s Little Green Book.

Where to start ?

The Mindful Universe by Henry Stapp, from the quantum physics edge of consciousness.

[Quote] It is often claimed that science stands mute on questions of values: that science can help us to achieve what we value once our priorities are fixed, but can play no role in fixing these weightings. That claim is certainly incorrect: science plays a key role in these matters. For what we value depends on what we believe, and what we believe is increasingly determined by science …. according to the revised notion, physical reality behaves more like spatially encoded information that governs tendencies for experiential events to occur, than like anything resembling material substance …. it was precisely the absence of any notion of experiential-type realities in classical physics, or of any job for them to do, or of any possibility for them to do anything not already done by the tiny mechanical elements, that has been the bane of philosophy for three hundred years. …. it is the revised understanding of the basic nature of human beings, and of the causal role of their consciousness in the unfolding of reality, that is, I believe, the most exciting thing about the new physics, and probably, in the final analysis, the most important contribution of science to the well-being of our species. [Unquote]

Quantum consciousness for non-physicists. Worth a read.

My earliest link to Stapp. Just before I first read Pirsig.

Suw Charman’s Headshift blog post and comment thread seems to have become the focus for fallout from BlogWalk4.

Quote from Julian Elve
I mostly agree with the view that “it” is about the soft issues and not the technology but that is a little bit countered by my experience that unless the technology hurdle is very very low then it becomes a great hook for people to hang their other issues on.

I think this is the essence … technology and communication hurdles are at an alltime low – almost by definition they get lower over time anyway. It’s like the “draining the swamp” metaphor, as the level comes down, the real underlying anthropological issues are exposed. Any “new” technology like blogging, initially raises a learning curve barrier, but as soon as that is overcome, the underlying issues are exposed even more quickly, because so many of the other ubiquitous web technologies have already largely drained the swamp.

As Julian says, think of the latest technology “thing” as the hook on which the (real) human issues are hung – was ever thus, will ever be so.

Reading Mary Midgley’s “Myths We Live By” at the moment, having originally picked up on a review of it way back here.

Easy read, starts promising – mainly against misplaced narrow (physical) scientific views being adopted in human scale situations, and plenty of arguments against dualism and Descartes naturally. Tendency to return to “people are people”, with many aspects, no fundamental view. OK, but what next ?

She takes a very narrow “atomist” view of memetics, and a very literal view of Darwinian evolution, and proceeds to trash widespread adoption of these two fashionable viewpoints for explaining any and all human development. None too convincing for me; she seems to choose very narrow definitions when it suits her argument. She’s no fan of Dawkins, but then neither am I.

OK, so memes are not “fundamental” particles of culture, but then neither are genes quite as fundamentally distinct as recent science would have us believe. (She focusses on the discredited linguistic “phoneme” origin of the word, rather than the “gene” metaphor for some reason. She dimsisses Susan Blackmore, having Buddhist tendencies, as clearly unsound.) But memes are useful components to model with. OK, so the human world is not literally built of memes in any simple additive sense, they are assemblies with topological arrangements and relationships in time. Memes themselves compound, overlap and decompose into components, and yes some of the components may be indistinct and conceptual.

Similarly the evolution metaphor, she’s hung up on the narrow chance survival of the fittest view, with a very narrow view of “fit”, which should really be taken to mean fit with the environment. OK so in human affairs, there is a large human intentional and contingent element to the “chance” of survival and reproduction, with some control over the delivery and the environment. If you take the environment and agents into account, it still forms a very useful model. I think Midgley is perhaps missing her own argument. There may be nothing fundamental / metaphysical about memes and evolution, but who’s looking for that anyway ? They form a useful predictive and explanatory model, provided you hang all the relevant issues on them, and don’t take too narrow a view.

Her main theme is preaching against simplistic all-explaining views; things generally being more complex than that. OK, I’m with her there. I’m only half-way through; I’m hoping later on I’ll find she has something to say about complexity and the emergence of simple metaphors.

I also feel “Gaia” coming on ? I’ll be back.