Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Beware of ...

... Intellectual Hazards. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Now, observe how this impatience acts in matters of research and speculation... Hence it is that we have the principles of utility, of combination, of progress, of philanthropy, or, in material sciences, comparative anatomy, phrenology, electricity, exalted into leading ideas, and keys, if not of all knowledge, at least of many things more than belong to them,— principles, all of them true to a certain point, yet all degenerating into error and quackery, because they are carried to excess, viz. at the point where they require interpretation and restraint from other quarters, and because they are employed to do what is simply too much for them, inasmuch as a little science is not deep philosophy.

Richard Dawkins needs to ponder this.


  1. jeff mauvais8:04 PM

    Isn't religion just another example of the same impulse? Perhaps the uniquely human need to ask "Why?" is just an emergent property of our complex brains. And all of our provisional answers can lead to rigid extremism, which we appear to prefer to the terror of not knowing.

  2. I think the same impulse can affect religion - and often does. I myself do not think of myself in terms of my brain or its emergent properties. I think of myself as a person who has a body, which has a brain. I think that I am character who has been created to play an exceedingly minor role in a cosmic drama. Playing the role involves a good deal of improvisation, of course.

  3. jeff mauvais9:02 PM


    I like the metaphor you've used in the past to dispute reductionism: that a loaf of good bread is more than just a mixture of ingredients.
    I view myself in much the same way: my "self" is a unique being that emerges out of an unfathomably complex collection of atoms at a particular point in time and space. That just makes more sense to me than the idea of a separate "self" that inhabits a body for a period and then ...? I'm not a philosopher, so I just have to go with what feels right to me. My quarrel is really with anyone who seeks to impose on me his view of the world -- with dogmatists of any stripe. You seem to be a man of carefully considered beliefs, which you express in a way that prompts me to periodically reconsider my own beliefs. Thanks.

  4. Hi Jeff,

    I don't see that I emerge out of atoms. More apt would be that I emerged out of a greater I.