Tuesday, 24 November 2020

Education and Scientism

It is generally thought that education is an unadulterated good thing.  However, I have reservations.  It seems to me that one of the detractions of education, and specifically a scientific education, is that it indoctrinates people into passively accepting certain ideas about the world. Ideas that, strictly speaking, are philosophical rather than something science entails.  For example, that we are sophisticated biological robots with no free will. That colours, sounds and smells don't literally exist out there.  That psi, an afterlife, rain-dancing, magic spells, dowsing are all hooey etc (it's possible the last 3 are hooey, I have no idea).

Even if we are to suppose that they are correct on all these issues, I find it interesting that people can never argue to justify their certainty on any of them.  When I ask people the origin of their convictions they often content themselves with asserting that I only think such things are possible because I want them to be true  Of course, here they are assuming that their own beliefs are highly likely to be correct and the reason I do not consent to their beliefs is because my yearning for such things overrides my reason.  They do not take a blind bit of notice of my actual arguments.

I also often hear the mantra, "where's the evidence". By "evidence" it transpires they mean something repeatable in a lab and that anyone, even skeptics, can unerringly replicate. There appears to be no room in their worldview for spontaneous or capricious phenomena, nor where a certain psychological state is a crucial ingredient for the manifestation of the phenomenon of interest. 

The fundamental point is this, if people assert something doesn't exist, they need to provide reasons for their belief.  Not simply be content to say "prove me wrong".  But I do not think it is an exaggeration to say I never actually hear any valid arguments.  At best I am told that such phenomena, if they exist, are simply impossible, that it would break the laws of physics and even render the whole scientific enterprise as fundamentally wrong.  But, we need to understand that the so-called "laws" of physics are simply a mathematical description of the patterns we find in the world. What these people are doing is reifying such a description and demanding that reality dances to its tune. In other words, they're putting the cart before the horse. However, reality has no obligation to conform to what we regard as "physical laws". Physical laws are general -- we lack compelling reasons to believe our current "laws" describe reality in its totality. In particular, they leave out consciousness in their description of reality. (I cover this issue in greater depth herehere, here and here.)

I think it's the power of our culture imposing its belief system on educated people. People just soak up the beliefs of their culture and their peers.  We live in a scientism infatuated culture that fosters the view that physics provides a literal depiction of the ultimate nature of reality.  Hence, all the qualitative features of reality -- that is, colours, smells, sounds and of course conscious experience itself -- are relegated to either being illusory, or are deemed to be translatable, without remainder, into the interactions of the ultimate entities that physics describes.

This is unfortunate.  Ideally education should make people think. To question prevailing beliefs and "wisdom". Indeed, to be a sceptic in the original meaning of that word. There's precious few people who are rational intelligent independent thinkers. And I can't see that ever changing.

Monday, 2 November 2020

Does the brain store memories?

The idea that brains store memories has a difficulty. Memories would presumably have to be stored via information. All information can, in principle, be represented by a string of numbers, say 100011011000.  But how would we know what memory that such a string of numbers represents? Books can contain lots of info, but we only understand them as we know the meaning of English words. We also have to remember the meaning of English words. Likewise we have to remember what memory 100011011000 stands for. As it stands it's not a memory any more than a knot in a hanky is.

So we need further info.  Something like 111001? But then we get the exact same objection. How do we know what 111001 stands for? Yet more info? Then we get an infinite regress.

My view is that memories cannot and are not stored.  We have to be in touch with them directly, so to speak.  Compare to vision.  We may not be able to see something clearly, even misinterpret what we are seeing.  But that doesn't rule out we are not directly seeing that something i.e we are not just acquainted with a representation of the seen object in our minds.

Often it's extremely hard to decide what is the rational thing to believe.

It's extraordinarily difficult for most of us to decide what the truth is on many contentious issues. Will we witness catastrophic clima...

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