The exploration of rationality (see: Journal) has led us into a number of difficulties. Our logic is flawed, our biases inescapable, and the foundations for our evidence have crumbled. Even the world we live in is not rational. So, it’s time to extract ourselves from the quagmire by elevating our focus to a few “meta” principles. Rationality is an ideal that can never be fully realized. Yet the goal of being rational is integral to who we are as human beings and to the notion of consciousness itself. Rather than drifting in the sea of experience, it is rationality that provides both anchor and sail. (more…)
Our simple exploration of the concept of rationality has so far dealt primarily with the last two parts of the three part model for rationality: choosing the optimal outcome and reasoning logically. In neither case have we found clarity. Choice requires valuation, which engages our emotional faculties – and emotions are notoriously difficult to integrate with conscious thought, as so much remains hidden. And while reasoning logically and consistently may be feasible, the complete truth will never be accessible – and the universe itself does not appear to be consistent. (more…)
In our discussion of rationality, we began (September 15) by reviewing the three elements of rational decision making: reliance on evidence, focus on desired outcomes and logical reasoning. The following week (September 22) we questioned whether the universe was rational (it does not seem to be). Last week (October 1) we looked at emotions and concluded that they are integral to rationality, both as evidence and more importantly as the guide by which we weigh and choose among desired outcomes. Our consideration of emotions was, however, incomplete. (more…)
In the first post on rationality (September 15, 2014), I mentioned the controversy over whether emotions, among other things, could be part of being rational. This statement deserves further explanation. We can start with a discussion of the role of emotions in each of the three parts of our model for rational decision-making: evidence – outcomes – reasoning.
Thomas Pynchon, in his sprawling novel Gravity’s Rainbow (1973), exhibited a fascination for the peculiar mathematics of the Poisson Distribution, a pattern exhibited in certain random sequences (including the location of German rocket strikes in London during WWII). Sometimes referred to as a “law of rare events”, the Poisson distribution has proven to apply to such disparate phenomena as: the volume of Internet traffic; deaths per year in a given age group; DNA mutations resulting from radiation; goals scored in sports with two competing teams; etc. (more…)
Last week (September 15, 2014) we established a framework for being “rational”, and talked about the importance of consistency. To be rational, we need to avoid inconsistences and contradictions. At the same time, we expect that being rational provides the confidence that we can reach the complete truth. But at the frontiers of knowledge in mathematics and physics, things do not appear to meet the criteria of consistency and completeness. The universe may not be rational.
This would seem to be an easy question. We all agree human beings can be, and should be, rational. But language and discourse about human thought is notoriously slippery. What being rational means has confounded philosophers for thousands of years. 
A Personal Journal – towards a Philosophy Integrating Science and Spirituality
It is 2014 and we are well into the fifth year of the 21st century of the modern era, approximately 2 million years after humans first appeared on the earth. Today, the world is changing in ways we cannot imagine, at a speed we cannot perceive and with an intensity we cannot withstand. We are precipitating these changes through our choices and their interaction with the choices of all 8 billion humans and the natural world as a whole, in a complex web of complex systems defying prediction or control.
All the same, the fundamental questions of who we are, why we are here and how we should live have not changed. The earliest known philosophers struggled with these questions, just as philosophers do today, while most of the human species continues striving to live the best life they can envision. (more…)
This summer two curious scientific findings were reported, both dealing with the effects of gender, but in very different circumstances. The odd juxtaposition raises interesting questions about gender bias and suggests that in some cases it is deeply subliminal, rather than cultural – and inscribed in the actual biochemistry of the body. This also suggests that there is a kind of subliminal reasoning built into our bodies and in life as a whole that deserves careful consideration.
In a recent EconTalk podcast, William Easterly called for a new “Copernican revolution” in how we look at Economic Development for poor people around the world. Rather than putting the technocratic experts (e.g. the World Bank, Bill Gates, Jeffrey Sacks) at the helm, Easterly calls for putting poor people in charge of their own future by giving them economic and political freedom. The concept is provocative and has important implications for human development and the concept of charity itself – and it echoes Swedenborg’s Laws of Divine Providence. (more…)
On February 4, 2014, there was a televised debate between Bill Nye “The Science Guy” and Ken Ham, President of the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky. While some interesting information was provided by the presenters, the quality of the debate was disappointing due to its focus on one of the weakest of tenets of Christian religious beliefs – that the world was literally created in seven days some few thousand years ago. (more…)
There is a remarkable similarity in the cosmological arguments about the nature of time that have arisen in both the theological and scientific community. The religious concept of Divine Omniscience is structurally identical to the physics of causal determinism in space-time – and both have raised debates about the nature of human free will. (more…)
I have hesitated to delve deeply into quantum physics (QP) in the ISAS Forum before because it is complex and paradoxical, and because the field is quite confused. Two recent articles, one in Nautilus magazine and one posted in BQO have changed this – new ideas being offered to explain the paradox of QP will change our understanding of the very nature of time and causation. The metaphysical implications are staggering – physicists are talking about the possible necessity of universal consciousness and universal purpose – and beginning to mention God.
Recently I happened across two very different pieces about infinity. The first was a blog post by Mario Livio, and the second a short video by Curtis Childs on Infinity. In his post, Livio poses the question as to whether there are any infinities in nature or whether they are just mathematical concepts. (more…)
As the digital age has matured, new technologies have emerged that change the way we do things. Some of these changes have been hyped as vastly more powerful and more efficient than the old-fashioned way of doing things. Three prominent examples: multi-tasking, reading digital books, and social networking have been touted as superior – as the way of the future. In all three cases, I found my own capabilities limited, leading me to conclude that as child of the pre-digital age I would inevitably be left behind in the great transformation. Recent scientific studies, however, have shown that the hype is off the mark and the myths are untrue. Human bodies, brains and social behaviors are incredibly complex and interdependent and they do not always fit with the technological infrastructure we are creating. Instead of blindly accepting these myths, we need to make informed choices about our use of technology – or we risk losing the very best of what makes us human. (more…)
Justified True Belief is the Holy Grail (to borrow a religious allegory) of epistemology – “knowing” is to believe something, on the basis of rational evidence and thought, that is in fact true. While this concept has taken a beating over the past forty years, starting with some paradoxical thought experiments by Edmund Gettier, it generally describes the model for knowledge that philosophers have applied for more than 2,000 years. But is it helpful? Is there a better way to define “knowing”? (more…)
It’s hard to imagine a more rationally stimulating area of science than the study of the brain. Yet the remarkable field of Neuroscience seems determined to deny itself. Recent research points to the influence on our decisions of a vast array of innate, genetic, experiential and motivational factors of which we are unaware. The conclusion – the “rational” mind does not make decisions – it is merely rationalizing our pre-determined choices. So much for free will – and for a directing influence of rational consciousness in our pursuit of good choices and deep questions (such as the nature of mind and brain). (more…)