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Nature: The Final Arbiter

Quotes I like

See full before him, gliding without tread,
An image with a glory round its head;
The enamoured rustic worships its fair hues,
Nor knows he makes the shadow he pursues!

'Samuel Taylor Coleridge's naïve woodsman from "Constancy to an Ideal Object"'
The most notable norm of naturalized epistemology actually coincides with that of traditional epistemology. It is simply the watchword of empiricism: nihil in mente quod non prius in sensu. This is a prime specimen of naturalized epistemology, for it is a finding of natural science itself, however fallible, that our information about the world comes only through the impact of our sensory receptors. And still the point is normative, warning us against telepaths and soothsayers.
The Pursuit of Truth (1992,p.19), W.V. Quine
The empirical basis of objective science has thus nothing ‘absolute’ about it. Science does not rest upon solid bedrock. The bold structure of its theories rises, as it were, above a swamp. It is like a building erected on piles. The piles are driven down from above into the swamp, but not down to any natural or ‘given’ base; and if we stop driving the piles deeper, it is not because we have reached firm ground. We simply stop, when we are satisfied that the piles are firm enough to carry the structure, at least for the time being.
Karl R. Popper, "The Logic of Scientific Discovery" (1934)
We others have let our courage drop since the time of the Enlightenment. Some small bungle was enough to get us off the track of reason, and we now let every soft-headed visionary denounce the projects of a d’Alembert or a Diderot as misguided rationalism. We are apt to plead the cause of feeling against the intellect, forgetting that we inhabit an intellect-constructed world. We must be on our guard, above all, against all yearnings for the de-complication of literature and life, for Homeric or religious warmth, for uniformity and wholeness.
Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities

Noire Perfection

A slice of cherry pie or looking through a glass darkly

What is it to be Lynchian? To quote David Foster Wallace:

[‘Lynchian’] refers to a particular kind of irony where the very macabre and the very mundane combine in such a way as to reveal the former’s perpetual containment within the latter. The unbelievably grotesque existing in a kind of union with the unbelievably banal.
A particularly caliginous, yet lucid, example is Jeffrey Dahmer’s fridge; victims’ heads beside groceries.

One of my favourite Lynchianisms—“Would you leave us please?”

Things I'd like to contribute to

  • Methodological naturalism
  • Philosophical naturalism
  • Rationality
  • Intelligence
  • Fighting those anti-intellectual movements who wish to return humanity to the primordial sludge: postmodernism, theology, and other forms of general idiocy.

Some of my views

Nature, of which we are a part, is what compels and fascinates me; opulence and starkness, beauty and disfigurement, complexity and simplicity — her myriad ways. We always start from within nature, us, her sapient parts.

When I say this, I say this all full of admiration for the jungle. It’s not that I hate it—I love it! I love it very much …—but, I love it against my better judgement.
—Herzog on nature

Usually, I don’t go for this kind of documentary, I would cast it aside as pretentious obscurantism, as having its place in art but not in serious philosophy. However, this is a Herculean documentary. Herzog’s reflections on nature in The Burden of Dreams are startlingly profound and, also, consonant with my own views. Nature does contain beauty and things worthy of positive evaluation, but I strongly believe that bleakness and things worthy of negative evaluation overcrowd any of nature’s merits. I think Camus (at least as I interpret him) encapsulated one of nature’s defining characteristics—the absurd. No other adjective so-fully characterises the response of a conscious mind to nature and human existence; quite simply everything a conscious mind wants: reasons, knowledge, hope, relief from physical suffering and mental anguish, meaning, etc, etc. … none of these perplexing questions are answered in a satisfying way—the cosmos remains silent.

William James once described the prelinguistic-child’s experience of the world as a “a blooming, buzzing confusion”—this is a fine description of nature herself. Senseless. Senseless.

The very idea of a God (or Gods) has always puzzled me: debates regarding deities always seem to surround the idea of 'God' as espoused by religions. I was always bewitched by the most general idea of 'God' (i.e. the idea considered outside of any particular religion) — why is this concept treated as if it makes any sense in the first place? The arrogance to assume that this human conceptualisation, couched in our language, is somehow isomorphic with how the world actually is.... Needless to say, the idea of God ( or Gods) is fundamentally — incoherent, unintelligible, riddled with inconsistency and utterly devoid of evidential support.

I believe that the idea of 'God' was proposed at a primordial stage in human history, as a desperate hypothesis, to try and manage the welter of neural input, to manage the complexity of experience — but, alas, it did this job (extraordinarily) poorly. I believe, like Quine, that what separates Gods from the theoretical constructs of advanced science is a matter of the degree of evidential support, not between radically different kinds. The very notion of an object, is part and parcel of the mythmaking we engage in, in our attempts, however pathetic, to try and understand nature.

My chief intellectual inspirations: David Hume, Rudolf Carnap, Otto Neurath, John Dewey, the late Wittgenstein, J.L. Austin, Mark Wilson, W.V. Quine, and Tamara Horowitz (God rest her soul, definitely need to know more about her—she was a true beacon of science and rationality). As a naturalist, I see philosophy — the study of our most general questions — as continuous with science. Pragmatism, common sense and its enlightened-extension science, and finally contempt for the pretentious and pompous—these are all part and parcel of being a naturalist.

Flower in the crannied wall,

I pluck you out of the crannies,
I hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower—but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,

I should know what God and man is.
—Alfred Tennyson, 1863

Often when I think about Naturalism or Nature, certain sensations and images are immediately present in my mind: images of a pristine forest accompanied by sensations of coursing, surging, flumes of lush verdant-green.

On naturalism

I'm moved to laughter at the thought of how presumptous it would be to reject [science] for philosophical reasons. How would you like the job of telling [scientists] that they must change their ways, and abjure countless errors, now that philosophy has discovered that there are no classes, that time is unreal. Can you tell them, with a straight face, to follow philosophical argument wherever it may lead? If they challenge your credentials, will you boast of philosophy's other great discoveries: that motion is impossible, that a Being than which no greater can be conceived cannot be conceived not to exist, that it is unthinkable that anything exists outside the mind, that it is a wide-open scientific question whether anyone has ever believed anything, and so on, and on, ad nauseum? Not me!
Parts of Classes (1991a, 59), David Lewis
It is silly to agree that a reason for believing p warrants accepting p in all scientific circumstances, and then to add but even so it is "not good enough". Such a judgment could only be made if one accepted a trans-scientific method as superior to the scientific method; but this philosopher, at least, has no interest in doing that.
Hilary Putnam, "Philosophy of Logic" (1971)

Norm and the Drakester

“Allons Travailler!”—Get on with it!

Discovered this maxim from the great Hitchens, who in-turn attributed its imperative form to the great naturalist Emile Zola. A maxim I would like to live by.
Here are what I take, to be two of its canonical expressions: Bunny Colvin is bought before a tribunal for nothing more-or-less than doing good police work. He created a safe-zone for the youth of Baltimore who were adversely affected by the drugs trade, a zone where they couldn’t be exploited by the drugs trade, and were also provided educational opportunities.