Exchange 3

Shaun: I appreciate this post enormously. It's the first detailed examination of my mission as seen from an informed outside position (as well as reflections on how your position gets attacked). I must examine it in more detail, but here's a quick response:

First, I did not find any argument that refuted my position utterly. Whether that's good news or bad news I can't decide!

I didn't find any consideration of conscious experience. Valuing conscious experience seems to have dwindled to two positions: denial of it being real or mattering, or a return to religion and the soul.  I am a dualist atheist. I grew up taking for granted the independent existence of mental properties and capabilities but now I find that position almost non-existent. This astounds me, but it's something I have to accept. I have to rely on some other concept, hence my resort to the "self," and even that I have to define it in terms of the more acceptable "relationship," as something one is conscious of, is aware of the condition of. No other form of conscious experience receives acknowledgement today, as far as I can tell. In novels the model is, say what happens,  don't say what characters think about it. No narrating of the stream of consciousness.

I found no reference in your post to my hypothesis. No one else seems to be pursuing the vein I'm mining. So, really, I have to consider if I'm beyond crackpot, into crazy. Or offering a point of view otherwise not represented.

You make no reference to the tradition I've proposed (discerning it after I'd come up with my ideas), from Erasmus Darwin to the genome being mapped, so I may be alone in promoting that. Is it plausible? Hard to say when there are no other opinions about it. Samuel Butler is key, and fairly well respected, among a certain sort of people.

For me, nothing arrived at before the discovery we evolved can be taken as sound, it's that revolutionary. Prior references to us evolving did not influence religions or philosophies as the discovery of it has done since Chambers and Darwin. Every form of discourse created by religions and sciences are suspect, every word I use drawn from those traditions can drag me into irrelevant argument. Everything has to be rethought. I make a great effort to arrive at modes of expression that depend as much as possible on conscious experience and the succession of rocks and distribution of living creatures today pointing to  them and us having evolved, and nothing more.

This essay is my most successful in this respect so far. You found little in the way of threads to pull on inside my train of thought, only implausibilities of the implications of my ideas implied in the light of authorities. What I am trying to do is leap from a hypothetical secular point of view prior to 1800 and present a train of thought involving us having evolved and its implications with no reference to any of existing history of evolutionary thinking, in light of which conscious experience retains it's pre-eminence among realities and is given a path to future development. In view of the weight of traditions contradicting my train of ideas I think it survived.

So the tires got thoroughly kicked, and (I felt) were not entirely deflated. But I have to realize from your analysis how extremely far from the beaten path my mission is, and how unprepared people will be for the form of my arguments and the benefit they are meant to deliver. Why have this mission at all, that's another thing. Well, actually, the mission is to maintain the traditions of conscious judgment and creativity represented by the humanities. That's my audience, the humanities, not scientists, both in this essay and at takeondarwin.com.

From my point of view, religion and scientism are alike deviations from my truth. Christianity is a putting into words and behaviors the implications of the genome being intelligent and having driven our evolution, arrived at before we became aware of having evolved. Scientism is the inflating of scientific data into a world view at odds with Christianity. Science is the body of coherent implications of scientific data gathered so far, and is the basis, but not the same as, scientism. Science is open ended, scientism is closed. I believe what I'm saying doesn't contradict science, only scientism and religion.

For a while I wrote about my mission as involving three magisteriums, so as to allow each to have its way un- impeded or -contradicted by the others. But no one lets that be. So now I just try to operate in the space between the other magisteria, and not ruffle any feathers. Can I not contradict any established truths, yet be persuasive?

I have no objection to creationism, as long as belief in it doesn't manifest itself in legislation that would unfavorably impact me, as resistance to "death with dignity" does, for example.

When I read your post in more detail I will have to distinguish when you are giving your own opinions from when you are quoting others, and when you are presenting how your position is under attack, as opposed to mine. The whole post is what I like most: someone giving their motivations for their point of view, rather than making arguments for what's "true" for everyone. The whole area of us having evolved is too new and fluid for the truth to be laid down.

Thanks again.

Shaun: On second thoughts, I see that you see my "mission" as running un-called for interference with yours, creationism. I realize you are not sympathetic to the secular development of consciousness, or to linking that to us having evolved. Your logic is almost the exact opposite; because consciousness cannot be accounted for in terms of science, which you accept as the governing authority in its own realm, therefore consciousness is appropriately dealt with through religious auspices. So your creationism is an overriding issue in considerations of the implications of what it means we evolved. And I see no meta-level at which our differences of opinion can be resolved. There is no meta-tradition to appeal to. I think we are in paradox land.

David: Ah, but we all are swimming in paradox! The world is inherently paradoxical, there is no place to stand and see everything all laid out nice and neat. I seem to be the only person I know willing to accept that, though -- creationists and evolutionist alike all seem to think that they can have a comprehensive worldview, a system of thought and thinking, in which all mysteries can be neatly resolved, all the contradictory data is merely a matter of practical limitations and difficulties... all of reality in a neat little box tied up with a pretty little bow. But light didn't turn out to be just waves or just particles, the Trinity can't be properly explained with shamrocks or eggs or water, there are things about reality that nobody on this side of the tapestry would ever figure out.

There certainly is an unbridgeable gap in our views, but there is much overlap in our interests. Consciousness certainly has a major natural component which must be accessible to scientific investigation, and looking at it from both sides of the gap may illuminate aspects that only one view would miss. I am not unsympathetic to the secular development of consciousness although I give it a subordinate role. Be open to surprises and the creativity of experiencing life through other eyes as much as you can.
 
Recommended reading:
Douglas Hofstadter:
Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid
Metamagical Themas: Questing For The Essence Of Mind And Pattern
 
Dimensions and mental limitations:
Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions
The Planiverse: Computer Contact with a Two-Dimensional World
Flatterland: Like Flatland, Only More So  
 
Also a number of works by C.S. Lewis -- The Screwtape Letters, The Abolition of Man, and of course the Chronicles of Narnia and his "space trilogy"
 
Shaun: I think your position--standing on a rock of faith while around you is chaos--is where we all want to be. My problem is the absence of that rock. For me, the experience of being conscious is what I want to be my rock, but it is given no validity today in the one sense that matters--where it fits in evolution. Without that it is insubstantial. So I cannot so easily dismiss the search for order.

Some questions:

Do you feel that you originated in an act of creation by God, either as a species or personally, that was not through evolution from some other species?

Do you feel that the ways you differ from other ape species come from God rather than from our common ancestor being acted on a process of evolution similar to that responsible for the evolution of other animals from each other?

Do you believe life began through God intervening to give matter special powers it otherwise wouldn't have?

For believers who can give "yes" answer to these questions, major mysteries  fade away. For unbelievers these questions face us with having to suppose that in the universe are processes almost as wonderful as God, that define us in ways we don't yet understand. Discovering those processes holds enormous promise, worth the venture out into a sea of chaos. For me the quest is personal, it's about me. I think for you it is no more than a topic in science. Certainly we can both be interested in how darwinism fails. I express that in my "Contrarian Evolutionist" essays at takeondarwin. I admit I am perplexed they rouse so little interest. Yours have been the only considered responses.

When I look at what I've published so far, I see I have only very recently moved on from wanting science to admit problems in darwinism to wanting the humanities to see how a conscious self must be supported by an appropriate origin story, and why they have to care about evolutionary origin stories. At takeondarwin I do have a section encouraging the humanities to refuse sciences' offer of a consilience based on darwinism the humanities are supposed to want. And my play takes off in that direction. But i do feel, without the nitty-gritty of darwinism to wrangle over, I am starting to flail at empty air. I can't imagine how I would know myself if I gave up. I've been pursuing this for over 20 years.

Thanks for the references.

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