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HUMAN UNDERSTANDING AND ASPIRATION IN A MATERIAL WORLD



from http://serendip.brynmawr.edu

????? "Tomorrow lurks in us, the latency to be all that was not achieved before" ... Loren Eiseley

Space/time, matter/energy, life, human experience and creation, society, humanness, meaning

  • relations among these things
  • what need to get from one to another
  • stuff and "assembly rules" enough?

Great chain of being - inanimate/animate distinction?

  • motion without first mover?
  • Newton -things in motion tend to stay in motion
  • Brownian motion, second law of thermodynamics

What IS life?

Beginning to account for diversity, improbable assemblies

Life as progress?

  • not greater virtue or "fitness"
  • yes, greater "complexity", improbability
  • profound history dependence, what is because of what has been

Evoution as progressive and continuing exploration of potentials inherent in assembly rules

  • DNA as record of past, foundation for future
  • genetic information as influence, not determinant

Human experience/aspiration? as resultant, as cause?

  • Life continually exploring, changing reality as it does so
  • The brain as an amplifier of life ... to come




"... to be all that was not achieved before":
The Brain Making Reality

The problem

  • Was that a clarinet?
  • Hoeg's life or carefully constructed fiction?
  • Is this a pipe?

    not a pipe ?

  • Is this yellow?

    This is not yellow.

    This is not yellow.

Making reality ... is deeper than a language or culture problem

Yellow as a brain category ... arbitrary in relation to physical "reality"

The generality of "making things up": Ambiguous figures

  • unconscious/conscious interaction

The role of randomness in the brain ... as in evolution

  • Frogs
  • Leeches
  • Getting less wrong about the world ... about self




"... to be all that was not achieved before":
Consciousness as an amplifier of the brain (and life) making reality

"... when as empiricists we give up the doctrine of objective certitude, we do not thereby give up the quest or hope of truth itself."

"It matters not to an empiricist from what quarter an hypothesis may come to him; he may have acquired it by fair means or by foul; passion may have whispered or accident suggested it; but if the total drift of thinking continues to confirm it, that is what he means by its being true."

"There are, then, cases where a fact cannot come at all unless a preliminary faith exists in its coming. And where faith in a fact can help create the fact, that would be an insane logic which should say that faith running ahead of scientific evidence is 'the lowest kind of immorality' into which a thinking being can fall. Yet such is the logic by which our scientific absolutists pretend to regulate our lives."

"...I simply refuse obedience to the scientist's command to imitate his kind of option, in a case where my own stake is important enough to give me the right to choose my own form of risk."

"In truths dependent on our personal action, then, faith based on desire is certainly a lawful and possibly an indispensable thing."

"Our errors are surely not such awfully solemn things. In a world where we are so certain to incur them in spite of all our caution, a certain lightness of heart seems healtheir than this excessive nervousness on their behalf. At any rate, it seems the fittest thing for the empiricist philosopher."

......................................William James, The Will to Believe, 1896

Septimus: My lady, take Fermat into the music room. There will be an extra spoonfull of jam if you find his proof.

Thomasina: There is no proof, Septimus. The thing that is perfectly obvious is that the note in the margin was a joke to make you all mad.

.....................................Tom Stoppard, Arcadia, 1993


The distinctiveness of self as an hypothesis ... individuals as explorers

The reality of the conscious/unconscious distinction

  • Blindspots and blindsight and beyond ... the wisdom of the brain making sense of the world without consciousness (and "self")
  • Dreams ... the brain acting without the world, but with "self"

Creating what might not otherwise be

  • The virtues of categories and of being able to transcend them
  • The virtues of ambiguity
  • The virtues (and pains) of being able to take "self" as object

Creating the world and the self: the interplay of conscious and unconscious


Thomasina: Well! Just as I said. Newton's machine which would knock our atoms from cradle to grave by the laws of motion is incomplete. Determinism leaves the road at every corner, as I knew all along, and the cause is very likely hidden in this gentleman's observation.

Lady Croom: Of what?

Thomasina: The action of bodies in heat.

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