Joho the Blog » Interesting reading abounds

Interesting reading abounds

Ever since I ended my paper-based relationship with the Boston Globe, I’ve done my breakfast reading in front of a monitor on our kitchen table. Today, I spent a little longer, and read some excellent articles:

  • Stephen Metcalf writes about Robert Nozick’s legitimizing effect on Libertarianism, and the philosophical weakness of the case he made for it. I have not heard anyone else make Metcalf’s critique of the Wilt Chamberlain argument (so far as I recall).

  • In Scientific American, John Horgan defends Stephen Jay Gould from the charge that his brilliant example of personal bias affecting scientific outcomes was itself based on Gould’s own biases. It’s actually a weak defense, with Horgan instead defending a related point SJG was making: “Maybe Gould was wrong that Morton misrepresented his data, but he was absolutely right that biological determinism was and continues to be a dangerous pseudoscientific ideology.” By coincidence, a couple of days ago I came across my old copy of an anthology titled “The Sociobiology Debate” that was compiled in 1978 when the idea that evolution shape ours our social behavior was not just controversial, but to many of us (including me) seemed quite threatening: it implied a lack of free will (which I no longer care about) and it was sometimes used to give a sheen of inevitability to the most conservative and even oppressive of social behaviors. Unfortunately, Horgan’s argument against sociobiology consists of the following single paragraph:

    “Biological determinism is a blight on science. It implies that the way things are is the way they must be. We have less choice in how we live our lives than we think we do. This position is wrong, both empirically and morally. If you doubt me on this point, read [Gould’s] Mismeasure [of Man], which, even discounting the chapter on Morton, abounds in evidence of how science can become an instrument of malignant ideologies.”

  • Also in Slate, I disagree so sharply with Jack Shafer’s criticism of Jose Antonio Vargas that I think I must be missing something obvious. Jose is the former Washington Post and Huffington Post journalist (and Pulitzer-prize winner, by the way) who came out as an undocumented immigrant in an article in tomorrow’s NY Times Magazine. Shafer declares himself to be an “immigration dove”: “I believe in open borders and detest our current laws and their enforcement.” If you hate the law’s enforcement, how can you also get in a snit about someone who lies to evade that enforcement? Or perhaps it’s only journalists who shouldn’t lie to their employers about their immigration status because there needs to be a special bond of trust between the editor and the journalist. So, which jobs does Shafer think do not require trust? Or is this just journalism dealing with its self-esteem issues again? Jose didn’t lie about his credentials, and he didn’t lie in his stories. He lied about the thing the bad laws Shafer “detests” made him lie about, just as forty years ago he likely would have had to lie about his sexual preferences. If Shafer thinks Jose’s admission makes him unreliable, then go through his work and find where this lack of reliablity manifests itself. If it doesn’t, then salute Jose for his honesty and courage. (Disclosure: Although I haven’t talked with him in a year or two, I count Jose as a friend, beginning in his pre-Pulitzer WaPo days. He has struck me as an honest, open-minded, and impassioned inquirer. I like him a lot.)

3 Responses to “Interesting reading abounds”

  1. My current favorite place to find good longish articles to read is the “Best of the Moment” RSS feed from TheBrowser.com

  2. It seems to me that Biological Determinism is less of an understanding of Nature and more of a justification for Rationality.

    Find the equation that drives Nature and we can discover the computer program that drives Human Behavior. Turn the secrets of Natural Selection into a successful marketing strategy.

    Science and the Rational Human Mind have their idea of why things are the way they are.

    Nature has a different way of expressing herself. Not exclusively through ideas at all, but through patterns and forms which are closer to Imagination and Dreaming.

    We all have experienced how inadequate the critics are at explicating the meaning of a painting or a poem! Nature can not be reduced to mere quantification and measurement of its manifestations. The most omniscient of scientists, Albert Einstein, relied upon Imagination as well as Reason to discover the truths of existence.

    Not that reasoning about the Universe is at all incorrect, it’s just inadequate because it will be forever incomplete. The tragedy of Scientific Materialism is the illusion it maintains that it can indeed explain Everything. The tragedy of our existence is the belief we maintain that Scientific Materialism will explain Everything.

    Reason is one of Four ways of Knowing. Biological Determinism seeks to transform another way of Knowing: Nature, sensation, perception, into a manifested version of itself. Reason would like to believe that it is the only legitimate Determiner for Existence. Reason would also love to discover exactly how it determines Nature.

    The existence of Art, Nature, and Spirit undermine the monovertical hegemony of Reason alone. Reason can approach Art, Nature, and Spirit, and can even claim that they are in fact determined by its dictates.

    When I cried in front of a Monet Water Lily several years past at a stunning exhibition at the MFA, I Knew that Shakespeare was closer to the truth of existence than any scientist i had read.

    “There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy” (Hamlet, Act I, Scene 5)

  3. Last Night I was fortunate to view Werner Herzog’s new film, Cave of Forgotten Dreams. Werner was permitted to film in Chauvet Cave, a recently discovered Paleolithic cave in southern France which is only open to a small group of scientists each year. The cave is remarkable for containing stunning paintings of animals that date back 35,000 years. The film is a treasure and a blessing since no visitors are allowed to enter the cave to view the images. Human visitation to Lascaux Cave caused mold to grow on the surfaces of the cave walls which began to obscure the Art.

    This morning I began to re-read David Lewis-Williams masterpiece: The Mind in the Cave. I came upon the following discussion of data and theory which is relevant to the discussion concerning bias in the writings of Stephen Jay Gould.

    Williams provides a discussion on pages 25 and 26 concerning Darwin’s ‘theory’ where philosopher John Stuart Mill writes that, ” Mr. Darwin never pretended his theory was proved”. ( Lewis-Williams p. 25) Darwin Writes, ” I believe in the truth of the theory, because it collects under one point of view, and gives rational explanation of many independent classes of fact”. ( Lewis-Williams p. 25)

    “Darwin had a further and equally important thing to say about hypotheses. In an 1860 letter to Lyell, he wrote,’…without the making of theories I am convinced there would be no observation’. (Lewis-Williams p. 25)

    Here is the shocking quotation relevant to Stephen Jay Gould:

    “Scientists do not collect data randomly and utterly comprehensively. The data they collect are only those that they consider relevant to some hypothesis or theory.” (Lewis-Williams p. 25)

    Data then is not merely accumulated but collected to substantiate a previously posited and unproven theory. Data is thesis specific. The paradigm drives the facts.

    David Lewis-Williams is interested in this because the discovery of ancient Paleolithic Art breaks the received paradigm that Art is an achievement of advanced civilization and could not possibly be a product of an inferior ‘primitive’ mind.

    “The very idea of Paleolithic Art was deeply disturbing. Was not Art one of the great achievements of high civilization?” (Lewis-Williams p. 26)

    I am interested in all of this because I believe modern culture has begun a paradigm shift away from a scientific reductionism that seeks only “rational explanation of many independent classes of facts”.

    Consciousness has begun to evolve toward a quadrality of knowing.

    Paleolithic man was evolving beyond the animal, beyond mere perception and sensation, not only because of the advent of rationality, but also because of the nascent development of his inherent capacities for Art and Spirit.

    Human beings blossomed not as a result of a survival of the fittest but as a result of the integrative and simultaneous evolution of four ways of knowing.

    To frame human evolution as a ‘survival of the fittest’, places modern man in a less evolved position than the Artists who created the cave paintings at Chauvet 35,000 years ago.

    The hegemony of rationality and scientific materialism is a Neanderthal position precisely because it privileges one way of knowing: Reason. Neither the Earth nor Human Culture can survive such a reduction of human capacities.

    Our hope for future survival lies within a quadrality of knowing.

    Human consciousness evolves from a Creative center nourished by the four streams of Sensing, Thinking, Imagining, and Intuiting.

    The Paleolithic artists who created the cave paintings at Chauvet were not nearly as rational as we are, yet the development of their capacities for Imagination and Intuition provide a path for our future evolution.

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