Here is part one of this blog post, just in case you want some form of background https://robinince.wordpress.com/2014/02/06/i-think-therefore-i-am-staring-out-of-the-window/
I started a twitter contretemps with teeth grinding and one fist clenched, I couldn’t clench the other as it hinders my typing. I still haven’t mastered punch-typing. With the quantity of aggression on the internet, I am sure a laptop manufacturer would profit from making a fist operated keyboard. As the argument continued, I began to enjoy it as it became a good mental exercise in working out why I thought what I thought I thought.
The self-declared philosopher claimed that it took as much faith to believe in science as it did to believe in religion. He continued by tweeting that it took a lot of unwarranted assumptions about the world for either science or religion to make sense.
At this point, I entered the fray to suggest that, an idea may start as unwarranted, but the scientific method can then be used to test it. I was already wary that this might turn into a conversation mixing postmodernism and cultural relativism.
The philosopher returned with the idea that we cannot trust our senses, and it is only faith to believe that we can. As regular readers will know, I love thinking about Timothy Leary’s “reality tunnels”, the view that what each of us see is not some objective view of the world, but in the act of translating our experiences, our biases colour what we believe we have seen. As I have grown older, I have found it more fascinating to think that we live in a universe of probabilities, and that science strives not to be right, but to be the least wrong version of events. It attempts to be as true as possible within the limitations we have.
I replied to the philosopher that I did not believe all perceptions were equal. We can test our subjective view points, there is not an equality of wrongness. My first example was the penicillin had proved more effective than prayer, experiment and observation can whittle down ideas to those that are less wrong. Currently, in many societies, anti-epileptic drugs are proving more effective in treating people with epilepsy than one of the previous popular cures, beating out the devils. They also appear to be a kindlier treatment. The earlier cure only resulted in stopping the incidents of seizures through the cure of killing you. Apparently, numerous other conditions used to be cured by death.
The philosopher replied with, “If all perceptions are based on unwarranted assumptions, I don’t see how you could prove one is more valid than another. Well maybe penicillin has, but even that observation can be doubted. If all observations can be doubted, probability is simply blind faith.”
About now I wanted my punch responsive keyboard (do hurry up inventors).
INTERVAL from post
I have just sat down on a train and watched a man peeling off the wrapper of his KitKat and dropping it onto the carriage floor. A man older than I am. I could not help myself.
“Are you really going to just drop that wrapper on the floor?”
Nothing was said. I was ignored. A minute later he surreptitiously picked up the bits of wrapper. One day, I will be stabbed. The man is going into his bag now as we approach the station. Maybe this will be the last sentence I write.
END of INTERVAL
Oh no, I have managed to get to this sentence. Phew, he’s got off now.
And back to…
I explained that in my subjective world, vaccination was not a belief system. “You might believe that you did not die of smallpox when you were child, but actually you did. And the rest of you all died from the cholera from that dirty pump, you only believed that the cholera was linked to the dirty water”.
By this point, the virtual brawl room was getting crowded. (@shanemuk @floatingcubes @paradiselost17 @barneyfarmer @numbdave @cathyby are amongst the roll call)
By this point I had resorted to suggesting that the Philosopher’s tweets were amounting to a postmodern sneer, while @shanemuk came in with “science *relies* on doubt. But not any old credulous codswallop. We progress.”
I find myself when confronted by questions such as “how do we really know that medicine is better than death, that not dying in agony is better than dying in agony, that life is better than death etc etc”, thinking, “well I am going to rely on my gut instinct, mixed with reports from the grieving and seeing people in pain, to make a subjective presumption that the world seems better when it doesn’t involve as many children dying painfully in infancy, that comfort is better than being beaten repeatedly in a cage, that, though I can’t be 100% certain that people weeping and screaming and renting their clothes apart in apparent melancholy is a sign of pain rather than pleasure, I am going to make these presumptions anyway.
Doubt does not have top lead to inaction. There is not an equality in wrongness.
But that’s what I think, and what do I know. The more neuroscience I read, the more I find out I don’t even know my own mind.
Philosophy asks some taxing questions. Some of them are annoying and enlightening, but some are just annoying. We’re not brains in vats, we’re minds immersed in twitter, and the demons are all around, stirring us up. Fun, isn’t it?
I am off to Norwich, Birmingham, Falmouth, Leeds, Sheffield, Salford and a town near you soon, with my show on the mind. Details HERE
Here is trailer number 2, the Bible version, for my “out this week” DVD HERE
and Cosmic Genome, the science app with Alice Roberts, Brian Cox and more, is HERE