Tuesday, 4 February 2014

A response to hearing Lewis Wolpert

As I anticipated (yet still went ahead) listening to the biologist and populariser of science Lewis Wolpert left me feeling quite depressed. But then, it might be useful to be reminded by his performances (such as at iai.tv) of all the tremendous difficulty of trying to communicate to the "mind-blind" what it is like to be a person! Unconsciously, through his condescending tone, borne of what must be some inner feeling of completeness, he is so deeply devaluing of people. It is in his confident, persistent dismissal of every kind of activity claiming to be of value, and aspiring to command general assent, that is not science.

It is useless to attempt to prove the existence of minds to the "mind-blind".

I am cautious about the scientific endeavour which wants to "locate" "mind-blindness" in one or other parts of the brain ("damaged" or not). Fair enough, if it wants to denote "mind-blindness" as the possession or not of this or that part of the brain. But I believe that it is possible for the "mind-blind" to become aware of that blindness, and in so doing become aware of the blindness to its own mind.

This may come about when an effort is made to give views on, to communicate, to ask for agreement on, questions of quality that inevitably appeal to value. It may come if there is readiness on the part of the one making that effort to accept that they are exercising judgement, from which, if that has happened, there may be a path to acknowledging that others too have access to their own powers of judgement. From this it is perhaps possible to come to recognise that others are independent thinking subjects. Persons. Minds. If "mind-blindness" can become aware of itself, as I believe it can, then I think this poses serious questions for the scientific stance that seeks to locate minds in brains.

But even if I was clever enough to formulate them, I would be very wary and hesitant, because my experience has showed me that it is impossible to prove the existence of minds to the mind-blind (and no compensation for the enormous imaginative effort required to do so - a shrug of the shoulders perhaps) and I believe there is a strand in science that will not accept that mind is anything and has a vested interest, qua science, in not entertaining an alternative. When I hear a man, completely satisfied for himself in the correctness of his own views, by the station and plaudits he has attained in his science-based profession, taking to the public expression of his views, in the form of book after book, that there is nothing of the remotest value in philosophy (and with that, every kind of enquiry or effort of imagination and thought that is not science), simultaneously defending himself against ever having to reflect on and qualify his views by the useful tactic of reducing all human practices that are not the practice of science as the blind workings out of particles joined together in what happen to be living bodies, physics in other words, I hear someone defensive in the face of anxiety.

 It is precisely his anxiety that us communicated to others in the act of telling them (in the form of book after book, speech after speech) that there is not anything of the remotest value in philosophy (apart from Aristotle, he says, although his "science" was "awful"). It doesn't occur to him that the book he has written, the speech he has given, is not science. Then what is it!? It is a view of the world. Well, if it is a view of the world, then perhaps he accepts that it is his view of the world, a particular view of the world, and more, is a view of the world, his view, which aspires to command general assent? It is not science. When you say "Philosophy is worthless and contributes nothing", that is your view, isn't it, not a scientific proposition? "No", he will say "I am not giving you my view of the world. I am giving you the facts."

He will say: "There is only matter. And out of the random accumulation of particles of matter over billions of years has arisen this ball orbiting an ordinary star, and life forms - a particular life form - on it, in which matter has become aware of itself, so to speak, such that it has the illusion that there is such a thing as "value", of some things being of more or less "value", and the being that has this illusion also suffers from another illusion that it is a "self", and the presence of "value" to its "self" is oddly reinforced by the fact that only to "selves" can there appear "value". All this is illusion. That is my world view. Except it is not my view. They are the facts." <>

"So there is no sense in holding values, in you or me holding values? <>

"No." <>

"No sense in assigning more value to this, rather than that, way of doing things? <>

"No. "Value" does not exist. <>

To you it does not exist. <>

To me it does not exist.... No! It does not exist!<> <>

Depression is something this man has written on, maybe even from personal experience. I think there is every chance that the outlook, the world-view, which denies value has something to do with it. The scientific institutions researching "Autism Spectrum Disorders", including Asperger's Syndrome, have a serious project. And I think there is open-ness to the idea that ASD is not wholly genetic or bio-physically determined. I wonder sometimes, or often, whether the social impressing of the scientific attitude and it's imperialism (against everything that is good about, and in the spirit of, science) on people hasn't something to do with the depression that signals our disconnection from ourselves. Compassion is needed, which simply has no place, is extinguished, in the materialism espoused by some popularisers of science.

Max Weber wrote an essay on "Science As Vocation" (delivered as a lecture) in 1917, from which the following paragraph is taken.
"Today one usually speaks of science as 'free from presuppositions.' Is there such a thing? It depends upon what one understands thereby. All scientific work presupposes that the rules of logic and method are valid; these are the general foundations of our orientation in the world; and, at least for our special question, these presuppositions are the least problematic aspect of science. Science further presupposes that what is yielded by scientific work is important in the sense that it is 'worth being known.' In this, obviously, are contained all our problems. For this presupposition cannot be proved by scientific means. It can only be interpreted with reference to its ultimate meaning, which we must reject or accept according to our ultimate position towards life." Wolpert relishes insisting that had there been no philosophy (barring Aristotle) then the emergence of science and its development would have been unaffected. Isn't this plain silly ignorance?

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