dilluns, de juny 30, 2008

Second Response to T

You make some very interesting counterpoints, but I'm not sure they fit the Novella/Skeptics-question. Novella and his merry team of debunkers are not taking on the Catholic Church and Islam; instead they are taking on the far more harmless (perhaps even gormless) ghost hunters and psychic mediums. Perhaps I should have been clearer there myself. To be blunt, I find that most people who put "Critical Thinking" in their Blog titles as capable of real critical thinking as those on the Christian Right. The main difference in the genre of their doctrines is that the so-called Skeptics are able to couch their manifestos in small and often disconnected bits of Scientific methodology, through which means they seem to know something others do not. The critical thinker observes and evaluates the information before him or her and makes an educated and informed opinion, but does not usually find the need to beat others' (i.e. the general public) over the head with that opinion. A hornswoggler with PhD or an MD sells a snake oil not much different to anyone else's. People with deeply held beliefs, even those rooted in Science, do not make the most reasoned people. As I say, having wandered around the Internet reading up on Dr. Novella, I give him credit where credit is due. Having an objective eye on questions which are near and dear to his heart he is not, however. Personally, I think he would be a lot more convincing without his website and other sundry talismans such as a podcast. Here he has moved from the realm of the academy into the realm of the three-ring circus and his main objective would appear to be finding adherents. The collective force of the academy cultivating a generation of real critical thinkers is a more noteworthy endeavor than opening a spate of websites and coffee clutches for the middle classes convincing them to chortle smugly as silly ghost hunters and sundry folks traipse about the planet believing in things which may or may not be there. Novella and his ilk (as are any deeply invested in establishing bases of social power) are full of what Plato would call "spiritedness" which is a craving for the security of absolute power and control. What I find remarkably tragic is that he is positioned, at least theoretically, to help build a generation of critical thinkers by taking his small part in the classroom. Instead he would rather razzle-dazzle sundry folks.

I will however VEHEMENTLY disagree with your position on the meaningfulness or meaninglessness of life, and when I get out to Portland perhaps we will have some long, drunken rants in person about this topic. Objectively speaking, there is no way, if the Skeptics' world view is correct, to find any sort of deeper meaning, or even transient meaning in life. You and I are lucky souls, all in all well bred and well fed and from a rich country. If we're lucky, we may live long lives. However, if this is all there is, whatever transient meaning we create in life is ultimately pointless. Our time on earth will make no appreciable difference in this infinitely large cosmos. All the love, the sorrow, the struggles and triumphs of all mankind will be swallowed by a bloated and dying Sol. Even if humanity were to escape the Solar System and colonize all that our eyes can see, some day, the universe itself will cease to exist.

Indeed, you and I are free to find meaning in a life that ends after 50, 60, 70 years. But what of the child who dies of starvation in the Sudan? What of the young, hopeful mother killed by an exploding shell in Tikrit? Meaning, such as they were creating it, arbitrarily ends through no fault of their own. And yet, those of us who live 100 years, we still meet the same basic end. The parade is only going to one place for all of us after all. So if this is all there is, if life's final disappointment is, as Peggy Lee would say, on its way, then no, life has, ultimately, no meaning. We are an accident of the cosmos; our thoughts and dreams no more than accidental by-products of a wholly accidental life. Whether we kill each other slowly or quickly, we do so nonetheless. Even if we were to live in peace for 10,000 years, it would make no difference. In short, the notion that each of us makes "individual meaning" in such a paradigm is a cloying and trite cop-out... a card-board match lit in the wake of a hurricane.

And, I must admit, that such may be the reality in which we live. I've always been given over to Science. I like relatively hard and fast answers (although one must caution to say "relatively" since even experiments done in succession with all controls firmly in place will show variances in results!). Indeed, I'm a huge fan of Science, and even now regularly read and research scientific interests of mine. At the end of the day though, while Science tells us a lot about "how" the cosmos works, it remains silent on "why". There is still a lot of mystery out there, and I don't think the day has dawned when it's time to close the human heart and mind to pondering the possibilities offered to us by the great Question! You are my sweet, dear, intelligent and artistically brilliant T. I couldn't care less about Dr. Novella and his well-meaning but meaningless adherents. However I do worry about you, and this new world you're wandering into so self-assuredly. If there's one thing I've learned so far in my life of pain and loss, and I think you know what I mean, is that tomorrow is worth getting up for because it's a mystery and our lives are along the way to solving it. Science does not have all the answers. Religion, I'm sure has fewer, though still some. Become a brilliant Scientist my lovely T., but don't lose your soul along the way!To me it is logical to say this: From where we stand today there is still much we do not know. One's school of beliefs may be proven wrong in the end, but to believe only in one idea and one ideal is clearly wrong. We all die sometime, some time sooner rather than later, when we do, then, PERHAPS, we know...

At least that's what I say to myself when I observe the corpse of someone I knew in a coffin.

"Now he knows."