Unscientific Grace

“Belief is the death of intelligence.”
  – Robert Anton Wilson
“True knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing.”
  – Socrates
“Of all that I hold probable, only this I know:
My wisdom only takes me where my folly wants to go.”
  – Ray Saunders

   We do not function based on what we know. We function based on probabilities. I act as if the odds of floating in mid-air should I step off a cliff are so slim as to be effectively  non-existent. It’s not impossible, but it’s highly unlikely, so I don’t step off cliffs. But while we function as if we knew, we must always remind ourselves of the imperfection and incompleteness of our understanding of the world. We must remain open to the previously unknown and unthinkable. The only real advantage of ‘altered states of consciousness’ – from drugs or meditation or other triggers – is to develop a more open consciousness, a term which itself is decidedly fuzzy.
   While science is making new discoveries about the brain (only recently finding out that the immune system extends to the brain), the understanding of mind is about where it was several thousand years ago. It is the true Final Frontier and likely to remain so, as it is continuously evolving. That said, I have decided to pay more attention to the world and document my observations thereon.
   I understand that thinking, consciousness, dreaming, etc. cannot be controlled, but they can be guided. While skiing, skating, mountain-climbing or dancing, the body is not strictly controlled, but is ‘nudged’ a bit this way or that at appropriate times and we end up getting where we need to be. Observed, we call the physical actions ‘graceful’, but would be hard-pressed to say exactly what that quality consists of, though we know it when we see it. I will henceforth attempt to advance my life according to such vague principles (among others) as Grace, with the full awareness both of the ‘unscientific’ nature of that approach and the awareness that Science doesn’t – and never will – have all the answers. Perhaps my observations will be expressed in poetry, the most appropriate vehicle for Unscientific Grace.
….stay tuned….

6 Replies to “Unscientific Grace”

  1. I like this from Tennessee Williams;

    We are all children in a vast kindergarden trying to spell God’s name
    with the wrong alphabet blocks.
    — Tennessee Williams, “Suddenly Last Summer”

    But, I think he got it from;
    The world is not a prison-house but a kind of spiritual kindergarten where millions of bewildered infants are trying to spell God with the wrong blocks.
    — Edwin Arlington Robinson…

    You have been posting some interesting stuff, of late especially. I’m of the opinion that life without wisdom has no value; at 70 (behind you a bit), it may be just on the horizon…

    1.   I, like many since the ‘Enlightenment’, have concentrated on acquiring knowledge. While that has its uses – a friend once described the intellect as useful for reading restaurant menus – knowledge is not wisdom. I don’t believe in any overarching, Grand Truth, and if such exists we’re certainly not up to grasping it or using it in any meaningful fashion.
        To me, wisdom consists of the few nuggets we dig out of experience that vaguely pass some level of intellectual rigor, but – more importantly – are recognized by something in us as carrying at least a bit of (capital T) Truth. Just what that ‘something in us’ might be is still open to speculation.

  2. I am going to be a little contrary here. There is an interesting guy, Daniel Kahneman, psychologist who wrote a book Thinking, Fast and Slow. He has a Nobel prize to his credit, but it’s in economics, not psych. His book takes you through his life’s work which early on focused on decision-making. He describes how the human mind appears to work in a variety of decision environments—how the mind “guides” us in its “fast” (reactive,emotional,intuitive) mode and its “slow” (attempting to apply logic and reason) mode. We do both and all the time, and he describes this using a variety of puzzles and questions illustrating how we are also misled by beliefs.

    Yes, I know–it isn’t spiritually satisfying and it surely isn’t poetry, but it is an interesting book if you are willing plow through it. Made me realize why economists loved reading him—all the better to manipulate us through clever advertising and false choices.

    1.    I am less interested in how the mind guides us than how we can guide the mind. I haven’t read Kahneman but his views as you describe them are fairly common. IMHO, that concept of Mind is rather shallow.
         One of the interesting attributes of Mind is Consciousness. It is quite possible to do most of what humans have been doing for the last 80,000-150,000 years without the dubious benefit of consciousness. Pre-conscious people were probably much happier than today. In fact, I believe there’s a dim ‘species memory’ of that pre-conscious state; wistfully remembered as an ‘ignorance is bliss’ existence.
         I’ve always maintained that the story of Adam & Eve’s Fall – the acquisition of Knowledge – really reflects the rise of consciousness. This acquisition demanded some sort of explanation, since it was very much a mixed blessing.

      1. Wow.

        So would it be your position that human beings are the only conscious species?

        I’m at a loss to understand this position, so maybe we have a problem of terminology. Myself, I have periods of consciousness and unconsciousness, split about 2/3 and 1/3, respectively, almost every day. That can’t be it; that sort of consciousness is widespread.

        Maybe you mean sentience, which Websters has as: 1) Responsive to or conscious of sense impressions, 2) Aware, 3) Finely sensitive in perception or feeling. However, sentience is also widespread, so that can’t be it.

        Maybe you mean self-awareness? That seems to be more limited in distribution, but as the famous mirror experiments at least seem to show, it’s not limited to people. Since apparently Chimps, Orangutans and Gorillas are self-aware, it’s probably something that evolved in a common ancestor; so is something that far predates our genus.

        Maybe what you mean is the ability to learn to defeat devices that didn’t exist until very recently…

        Maybe what you mean is the ability to solve multi-step puzzles. (Skip to the 4:00 mark if in a hurry).

        Maybe what you mean is the ability to deceive.

        Maybe what you mean is the kind of thought that uses language. I guess we’re more or less *it* as far as that goes; except maybe for meerkats, and probably others

        People (and many, many other species) maintain relationships. How would that be possible without consciousness?

        How would building trust be possible without consciousness?

        I must admit, I’ve been influenced by the book “Divorce among the Gulls“; the author argues that behaviorism has had too large an effect on the study of animal minds, and that possession of consciousness (of some kind) should be the default position, rather than the simplistic Behaviorist / Cartesian idea that kicking a dog rouses an internal mechanism causing it to bark. (I don’t mean to argue for a soul here, just for more complexity and commonality in the mechanism)…

        I think I’ll end my rant here; Happy 4th!

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