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All posts for the month August, 2007

I’m reading Dennett’s “Breaking the Spell” at the moment.

I’ve made it clear I’m a fan of Dennett as a pragmatic philosopher, unlike Dawkins as an unreconstructed logical positivist scientist. Their language and quality of argument are chalk and cheese. “Breaking the Spell” is explicitly an argument against god and religion aimed at an American Christian audience. That said the chapter “Belief in Belief” reads philosophically like the final word in epistemology and ontology generally – it really does.

Interestingly he concludes said chapter with the conclusion of his earlier work “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea”.

Should Spinoza be counted as an atheist or a pantheist ? He saw the glory of nature and then saw a way of eliminating the middle-man ! As I said at the end of my earlier book :

“The tree of life is neither perfect nor infinite in space or time, but is actual, and if it is not Anselm’s “Being greater than which nothing can be conceived” it is surely a being that is greater in detail than anything any of us will ever conceive in detail worthy of its detail. Is it something sacred ? Yes, say I with Nietzsche. I could not pray to it, but I can stand in affirmation of its magnificance. The world is sacred.

 And in summary :

“The belief that belief in God is so important that it must not be subjected to the risks of disconfirmation or serious criticism has led the devout to “save” their beliefs by making them incomprehensible even to themselves. The result is that even [those that profess belief] don’t really know what they are professing. This makes the goal of either proving or disproving God’s existence a quixotic quest – but also for that reason not very important.”

The real debate starts with the value of believing in God, despite that.

I published a review of Nick Maxwell’s “Is Science Neurotic ?” a month or so ago.

Nick was kind enough to reply that “I feel, from the review, that you  have entirely understood my book” – which is gratifying. He also provided links to a collection of other reviews; by Donald Stanley at Metapsychology ; by Clare McNiven in JCS ; by Sarah Smellie in the Canadian Undergraduate Physics Journal ; by Mathew Iredale (and extracts of others) on Nick’s own FoW site.

Look out for a new Friends of Wisdom newsletter.

Following the mid-western road-trip to Wyoming & Montana, I’ve uploaded some photos. Lots of general scenery and wildlife in Teton and Yellowstone amongst other places, and for Pirsig fans, some relevant ZMM locations …

Hebgen Lake, Bozeman and Gardiner
The Beartooth Highway – between Gardiner and Laurel
Meeting Mark Richardson in Hill City

An interview with Michael Ignatieff posted at Mcluhan’s (Next) Message. Struck by the reference to the hypocrisy of literalism …

Amongst “friends” we recognise that what someone means is more fundamental than what they actually say … but somehow in organised public life we use the flip-side … and interpret our own meaning into the words people literally use, at their expense … a kind of contractual exploitation ?

Another example of the “hypocrisy” demanding our pounds of flesh.

I happen to be reading Dennett’s “Breaking the Spell” at the moment, so refreshing after Dawkins (creator of the “extended-phenotype” term) attempt on the same topic. Dennett opens early in his book with the lancet-fluke & ant example to illustrate the “viral” metaphor of a meme infecting a brain producing behaviour inexplicable in terms of the brain’s host’s interests.

The examples here, collected by Neurophilosophy are fungal / ants (and other arthropods), and worm / arthropod cases - but excellent illustrations, if a little gruesome for the squeamish.

After the width of Kansas, we continued after Colorado, via Cheyenne, Laramie, Jackson Hole (Wyoming), Teton Park, Yellowstone Park, Gallatin Forest (Idaho & Montana), and Beartooth highway – now east of Billings MT.

Spectacular 13,000 ft peaks above the lakes in Teton, and a spectacular 10,900 ft highway (above the glaciers) over Beartooth. (So much variety of high ground in fact – we loved southern Wyoming before we even got to the Teton and Yellowstone parks.) Elk, deer, buffalo, coyote, chipmunks, ground-squirrels, and eagles along the way.