Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Thinking about Thinking-

I have recently engaged in a few sparing matches on another blog. Pliny is a scientific thinker and strong proponent of a scientific view of reality. He and his followers seem quite concerned by the conservative Christians who have been striving to incorporate creationist models into the system of education. For the most part Pliny and many of his followers do not have high regard for either the creation model or Christians and their way of thinking.

Pliny is quite fond of the evolutionary model. As a scientist and one who does not hold a Christian world view, that makes a great deal of sense. Most of his concerns and criticisms have been well thought out and well presented. In wrestling with some of those ideas as he presented them I have been compelled to think a bit.

I don't mind. I like thinking. Unfortunately, the last few years I have neglected my thinker, and so I am getting my thinker back into shape. Many of the half-baked mental models I played with many years ago remain half-baked. That is not to say they are not serviceable models, just that I never completed them.

In the past I did not have venues in which to exercise my thoughts. I was no longer in school, and my jobs did not present the right circumstances for mental exercise. So, my thoughts remained incomplete largely due to not having any sounding board. I had nobody to wrestle with. In recent years I exercised my mind less and less, and now it is as flabby as my physical form.

Not a pretty sight.

Having the Internet, I started this blog as a place to exercise my thoughts, and perhaps get some mental models assembled and made presentable. However, I still wrestled with some emotional issues, and was unable to get down to some serious thinking.

Visiting Pliny's place demonstrated to me that I really need to get my mental muscles back into fighting trim. Unlike physical combat, where my flab at least provides a useful mass for restraining combatants, mental wrestling requires some serious conditioning.

I am assessing some areas that will need exploration, and the exploration will provide the conditioning to prepare me for more intellectual adventures.

My problem has always been a curiosity greater than my lifespan. I have trouble narrowing my focus. I see so many avenues that are bright and interesting, and I want to travel them all.

Evolution and creation are only two models that I long to explore. However, associated with that exploration is an examination of contemporary Christian culture as it relates to the conflict between evolutionists and creationists. There is also an interesting avenue in which I long to explore the contemporary culture of science, and learn how that culture selects what is (and is not) knowledge.

That brings me back to the conflict I experienced in my youth regarding the perspective of the scientist as opposed to, say, a mystic. While science as a system reveals things that are true about the universe in which we live, I wondered about those areas that seemed unsuited for scientific analysis. The mystical was only one such area.

I still want to define more ways of thinking. This was the essence of my conflict in one discussion at Pliny's place. I contended that science was a belief system, a way of thinking. It is a system with a set of presuppositions, a perspective on reality, a particular vocabulary, and limits as to what it can encompass.

Pliny and his followers did not agree. My presentation left a lot to be desired, and I recognized that I was at fault for having not even clearly identified my position.

Of course, this points to another area of interest. The psychology of belief. That seems to be a subset of epistemology as well as psychology. Two rather large fields to explore.

It would be so much easier if one area of thought would catch my interest so intently that I could focus on that to the exclusion of all else. I would only delve into other related fields to help in understanding my darling. I would specialize and master something.

My broad interests have resulted in a little knowledge about a lot of things. This has earned the moniker Dr. Lockridge in my present place of employment. One associate likened me to a children's show host. Doctor Lockridge's Wading Pool of Knowledge. Though it is a bit of a dig, it is such a comical image (and true) that I have embraced it.

So, can I use this venue to focus my mind, and perhaps put together something that serves the name of this blog?

I can't wait to find out.


Anonymous said...

Why, exactly, do you consider science ill fitted for investigation of the mystical? Frequently, things happen which cannot be explained with current scientific knowledge. The process of science is to remove the unexplainable (mystical, magical) phenomena by means of investigation and inquiry. The very nature of the unexplained is what draws scientists towards it.

The reason the "creationist model[s]" are not valid stems from having absolutely no substantiated evidence. It is picking and choosing bits of evidence, taking them out of context, reworking them into something which can be used to support the argument, and ignoring the rest of each piece.

Example: K-Ar dating was used to determine a recent volcanic eruption (1950s I think) was 300,000 years old. They use this to attempt to discredit K-Ar dating. What they ignore is that the method is only useful for dating igneous formations greater than 2,000,000 years old; additionally residual Argon can skew results of young samples strongly towards the 2,000,000 year range especially in the spectrometer which was being used for this experiment.

The issue you will run into frequently with scientists is that of "belief." If you ask me, as a biologist, if I "believe" all vertebrates are related, I would respond "no." This is, in light of evidence, my present conclusion is that all vertebrates are related, but this is subject to change in light of any new (contrary) evidence.

Many common words are used to express this sentiment, such as "believe" and "opinion," but a scientist must be open to new evidence to draw accurate conclusions.

Michael Lockridge said...

The implication of your response is that a scientific view of reality is the only valid view. As presented I must assume that such is your position.

My own experience with the scientific view is that which I learned through general education, and that some time ago. Obviously I have much to learn just to understand this view of reality.

My knowledge of a mystical view is largely that of experiences I gained while cobbling together various readings and trying to create a mystics lifestyle. It was interesting but not particularly informative.

What I learned of creationism came as a consequence of my conversion to Christianity, and exposure to the controversy. Again, a bit of reading and some thinking.

I am disappointed by the lack of real scholarship in creationism. You are correct in observing that creationists largely attempt to impeach the testimony of evolution rather than examine the evidence from a creationist perspective.

My point in this particular blog entry was to state that I am making a new beginning. I am thinking about thinking, and wanting to get a better grasp on what knowledge is, how thinking works, and to examine ways of thinking.

I want to understand the mystical and magical, not just remove them. Mysticism and magic have long been part of the human experience. I am not convinced that they have no merit just because they don't easily fit within or submit to another way of thinking.

Neither do I wish to exclude the scientific way of thinking. That, too, is a part of the contemporary human experience. I want to understand how it all fits together.

Thanks for reading, and thank you for your comment. You gave me things to think about. That, of course, is the point of all of this.

Jared said...

If you are interested in my thoughts on the mystic and magical, I may be able to provide a little insight which comes from my scientific perspective.

From what I have gathered in my relatively short tenure upon this planet is as follows:
What we perceive as "magic" or "unexplainable" is only so because we do not have sufficient evidence or understanding of other phenomena to postulate any other alternatives. (For this reason, people hate going to Vegas-style magic shows with me) We do so because we are conditioned, from a very young age, to accept some things which just seem too complicated to have physical explanations. (e.g. a 3 year old wondering why people don't fall out of roller coasters when inverted and concluding roller coasters are magical--don't laugh)

Quite contrary to your postulation that magic and mysticism do not fit into scientific models, I find they fit far more nicely, but very differently, from what someone such as yourself seems to be looking for. We find magic or mysticism within the world when we stop looking closer. The closer we have looked at anything magical (so far) which has been investigated is an explanation which fits into our understanding of the world with at least some tangible evidence of it.

On the other hand, magic and mysticism do teach us many things. The first which comes to my mind is how easy our senses are to deceive. This is why we must have a process of verification and confirmation by others built into any system of "knowing."

Steven Pinker has a good book on thoughts entitled "The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature" and David Linden has one entitled "The Accidental Mind: How Brain Evolution Has Given Us Love, Memory, Dreams, and God." Both are pretty good reads and available on Amazon for something like $35 for both. Pinker is a psychologist; Linden is a neurobiologist.

I cannot stress enough that what we have learned of reality through science is a pretty fair approximation to reality whereas what we have learned through mysticism and magical means of thought are alternatives which are not reality.

If one chooses to embrace mysticism or magical thoughs, allow them to be as follows: "science can tell us reality, mysticism tries to tell us how we should feel about it"

How, exactly, one can rationalize metaphysical, unverifiable arguments above physical, verified measurements escapes my complete understanding. I understand the allure, but do not understand its addictive nature.

Michael Lockridge said...

Thanks, Jared, for the thoughtful response. Thank you, also, for the book references. I put them on my wish list.