Re: MD A bit of reasoning

From: Jim Ledbury (
Date: Sat Oct 16 2004 - 04:11:10 BST

  • Next message: Mark Steven Heyman: "Re: MD On Faith - Improbability ?"

    Hi Mark, Platt et al.

    Platt Holden wrote:

    >Hi All,
    >>msh asks:
    >>Just a general question about the limitations of human intellect,
    >>addressed to anyone who wants to take a crack at it. When we say
    >>that there's a point beyond which our limited human
    >>intellects can't go, we don't mean that this point is fixed
    >>somewhere along the continuum of possible human mental activity, do
    >>we? It sems like this point gets pushed along, right along with our
    >>own intellectual/biological evolution. If this is true, what reason
    >>do we have to believe that human intellect is limited at all?

    I'm not sure that biology or social evolution are limited simply because
    intellect exists. It is 'possible' (i.e. we can conjecture about it,
    even if it is technically impossible) that we can replace our biology
    with something more amenable to cravings of immortality (by intellectual
    intervention in our biology or intellectual replacement of it). Social
    evolution still happens all the time - chiefly because of the undecided
    questions of the differing rights of people and capital not to mention a
    few unwelcome intrusions from the ages of theocratic absolutism. It
    will be a long time before we can say 'history is dead'. And like it or
    not (new biology notwithstanding - maybe we can get ourselves to
    photosynthesise) the vast majority of human effort will be economic and
    therefore social rather than intellectual. As far as limits to the
    intellect go: difficult to say what is the limit really. Gödel had some
    nice lines in the ultimate limits of knowledge. However this reflects
    knowledge in general rather than specific knowledge. I've got a few
    myself which rest on distinctions of logical decidability, computability
    given the resources of the the entire universe and practical
    computability. I guess the limits of human knowledge relate to the
    ability of a single human being to have a general grasp on what is going
    on. I can envisage that there might at some point be too much to know
    and that we will have to rely on machine assistance to help us - in a
    lot of ways this is true already. I can think of my own experience I
    have had diverse occupations which need knowledge of factory procedure,
    physics, computing, law, finance and London geography (not all at once
    yet I hasten to add). In some ways isn't this a somewhat self defeating
    question? How will we know when we reach that limit? Is this limit a
    'knowable'? It's a bit like the conversation of two cells in the human
    body... There might easily be things which we have no way of knowing -
    we have no way of knowing. However, given that we contemplate the
    nature of logic, the basis of the material world, debate ethics, devise
    productive strategies to suit our needs and invent all sorts of
    mind-b*ggering fiction it's a fair question to ask "well, what else is
    there?" and a fair answer to say possibly not a lot - this isn't to say
    that we know everything - far from it, just that we have the fields
    pretty much covered. I would say that this reflection is only really
    possible at the beginning of the 21st century though. That I can sit at
    home and get an answer on virtually any aspect of human knowledge
    (though not necessarily a reliable answer) rather than depend on the
    opening times and organisation of the local library has a lot to do with
    that. Random rather than sequential access and all that.

    >No reason that I can tell. After all, many people believe science is the
    >pinnacle of human intellect. But science cannot explain why matter
    >organizes itself, or life reproduces itself, or mind reflects on itself.
    >But along came someone by the name of Robert M. Pirsig who burst the
    >limits of science's intellectual horizon and has offered a rational
    >explanation for these and many other heretofore inscrutable phenomena.

    I think that's a bit unfair, Platt. Pirsig's explanation only arose
    when we started to deal with these questions with any chance of
    answering them in terms of anything other than metaphysical
    speculation. The problem of dealing with how consciousness is part of
    the functioning of the brain is far from answered: I can think of few
    better 'simple' introductions to the quandries of these problems than
    the highly entertaining Vilayanur Ramachandran
    ( My only serious disagreement
    with him is that he dismisses the concept of free will on the basis of
    an experiment where it is possible to monitor the physical state of the
    brain and register the decision to perform an act before the actor is
    conscious of having decided to act. Whilst I in no way rail at the
    data, I think the interaction of conscious state and volition are rather
    more complicated than his uncharacteristically simplistic interpretation
    at this point. To my mind MoQ deals with this rather well: the
    conscious register of having made a decision is when certain SQ elements
    are brought into play.

    To be sure though: science does always balk at the 'why' question and
    tries to answer it with 'how'. I am unconvinced by the assertion by
    many scientists that science is not there to answer the 'why'. I don't
    mind this intrinsically but I feel that Science (capitalised)
    monopolizes the 'why' question with 'how' answers so this assertion is
    somewhat lame, and is at least part of the cause of the alientating
    factor that many people feel (as did I until I came across the quality
    path) in the face of a random universe full of dumb matter. When you
    actually realise that your questing is the derived from the questing
    activity of all (far from dumb) matter, it at least inures you to the
    need to seek out cults to find your place in the universe. I think
    that MoQ can achieve the synthesis sought by the romantics c.1800
    between the aesthetic and the analytical without recourse to being
    'unscientific'. But then, I think this is what you are saying.

    >We, my friends, are at the forefront of this breakthrough. It make take a few
    >centuries for others to catch up. Beyond that, who knows? But as my friend
    >msh points out, why should we believe the evolution of intellect will ever stop?

    But MoQ does place intellect in a hierarchy of endeavour and so imbues
    it with a responsibility to respect the underlying layers which make it
    possible. Which gives real meaning to ethical considerations with
    respect to science.


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