Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Blues and Abstract Truth

The Blues and Abstract Truth is the title of a jazz album recorded in 1961.  The title might also be a formula for all great art, including the art of living.

Feeling and thought, substance and form, passion and detachment, yin and yang, Bacchus and Apollo, the blues and abstract truth – each a critical part of our experience; thus the integration of the two is required to be present to or to represent the wholeness of experience. 

Albert Einstein once stated that “science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”  Personally, I find this quote rather lame, but perhaps what he really means is that abstract truth without the blues is lame, the blues without abstract truth is blind.  Science needs to be grounded in the concrete, felt, everyday experience of living; the concrete, felt, everyday experience of living needs the guidance of timeless truths.

Stephen Hawking wrote: "Even if there is only one possible unified theory, it is just a set of rules and equations.  What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe?"  What I hear Hawking asking is “Where is the blues behind all this abstract truth?”

The discoveries of science, as Hawking states, is “just…rules and equations.”  Or, we might say it is a comprehensive, ever improving map of the world.  Maps are wonderful for getting you oriented, but the goal of a map is to help you arrive.  When you get to Graceland, you can fold the map up put it in the glove compartment. 

Or another analogy is that science is an attempt to uncover the recipe of the world.  But. when you’ve cooked the gumbo, you can put aside the recipe and sit for a spell and eat.  That’s what the blues is about, being there and eating it up.

The first tune on The Blues and Abstract Truth is “Stolen Moments.”  If you want to hear what the marriage of blues and abstract truth is all about, take a listen.  A version is available on the Internet at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ps3ftZQ5O3w.  (of course, just about anything by Duke Ellington or John Coltrane will also do.)

Monday, March 11, 2013

Challenging a Dogma

That there is nothing markedly special about the human species is practically dogma within naturalism.  Though I consider myself a naturalist, I dislike dogma regardless of where I find it, so I challenge this one.

From the point of view of biology, humans are just another species.  Biology, however, is a rather limited point of view – it has little to say about the pre-biological and less to say about the post-biological.  Indeed, it refuses to recognize that such a thing as the post-biological exists, even though the methods of biology have proven largely useless for the study of human culture.

From the perspective of cosmology, one can argue that there are three and only three large scale, self-organizing processes: 1) the physical processes that give rise to the organization of stars, galaxies, solar systems, atoms, molecules, crystals, and planetary and earth geology; 2) the biological processes which give rise to cells, organs, organisms, instinctive behavior, and the workings of ecosystems; 3) human intentionality, which gives rise to artifacts, architecture, machines, art works, languages, the sciences, etc.  

These three levels -- physics, biology, and the social sciences -- form the levels of science we find in academia.  (The Chaisson Complexity Metric demonstrates that these levels can be distinguished in a quantifiable manner based on energy flows.)  Although there is a faith that all these levels ultimately reduce to physics, for all practical purposes they do not, and science is always about practical purposes.

So while humans may be just another species from the point of view of biology, we are one of only three types from the point of view of the self-organizing universe.  And that is rather special.  Now someone will undoubtedly point out that there are other animals that use tools, that have language, etc.  Yes, some ability of this kind is strewn about the biosphere.  But if anything, these vestiges of intentionality merely highlight how different in complexity and novelty the process of human creation is.  

I make no claim about a larger meaning of any of this other than to say that the process of the self-organizing, emergent universe does not end with biology.  I have no interest in the anthropic principle, and certainly none of the claims of theism.  But I see what is in front of my eyes – the skyscrapers of the modern city (as one example) belong to a different order of being than the trees of the forest or the sand dunes of the desert.  I have a hard time understanding why my fellow naturalists are so intent on denying the obvious in regards to this.