Thursday, January 24, 2008

Speaking of thinking ...

... A while back, on this post, I tossed out this thought:

The underlying premise of science is that if we get to the bottom of nature we will understand reality. Suppose that premise is false?

This was not meant to disparage science in any way, and I should have put it more precisely, since I was not, in fact, referring to the underlying premise of science - which is the perfectly sound one that by observation, experiment, trial and error we can arrive at an understanding of the structure and processes of nature. What I was intending to refer to is a premise many often posit about science, which might well be true if nature and reality were the same - or, to put it another way, if nature encompassed the whole of reality - but I suspect that neither is the case.
Let me explain by means of analogy. For Hamlet to be fully realized, it must be staged. But the most thoroughgoing analysis of the theater in which it is performed will tell you absolutely nothing about the play. Likewise, a complete understanding of telecommunications won't tell you anything about the message your mother left on your answering machine last night. In other words, suppose nature is simply the platform for reality.
A similar problem arises with the notion that one can arrive at an ultimate understanding of reality - that is, figure it out - solely by means of reason. The problem there, though, is the presumption that reality is primarily something to be figured out. I don't think it is, anymore than a poem is something meant to be explicated. Whatever understanding of reality we may hope for is best arrived at through the portal by means of which we most directly enter it: ourselves. And no one really experiences himself in terms of chemical or physical processes. Reality is more like Hamlet than a theater and has at least as much to do with such ambiguous matters as character and motive as it does with atoms and stars.

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