Critique of TSW Part 22a The Human Microcosm

Blog 20141015 

Bill’s belief in finity gives him fits when he tries to support his idea that there are finite, definite boundaries that he thinks he needs for understanding the universe.

I am ever so grateful to Bill Westmiller, whose comments are marked "BW: ". The quotes marked TSW are from "The Scientific Worldview" and my comments are marked "[GB: ".

The Human Microcosm (Part 1 of 2)

"Man is a microcosm."

BW: I'm becoming more and more disenchanted with the micro/inside vs. macro/outside theme. For any arbitrary set of objects, (or the entire universe) there is something of average size. Anything smaller is micro, larger is macro. That subjective characterization is entirely irrelevant to understanding anything about any of the objects.

Human beings are distinct animated objects in the universe. I see no value in calling them "portions" of the universe, or labeling them as
"microcosms". The bifurcation is purely subjective and arbitrary. From the viewpoint of our resident bacteria, WE are the "macrocosm". Relative to atoms, bacteria are the "macrocosm". Relative to electrons, atoms are the "macrocosm". So what? The only content is that they're different sizes.

If we want to understand the universe, we have to identify the boundaries that give individual things their identity. Otherwise, there are no
"things" to discuss. Throughout your commentary, there is no *definition* of the boundaries that make a distinct object what it is. It's just implied that there are real differences in reality and faults others for ignoring "bigger/outside" or "smaller/inside" things.

[GB: Sorry, Bill, but, as mentioned previously, scientists have no problem discussing things that necessarily do not have finite boundaries. You are right that the distinction between microcosm and macrocosm must always be somewhat subjective. Nonetheless, it is most important to understand what is going on across that boundary, the essence of univironmental determinism.”

TSW:  "... this perception [of being a microcosm] ... brings a challenge to our own estimate of our place in the universe."

BW: That humans are one distinct portion of the universe doesn't produce any "feelings" about our place, solipsistic or fatalistic. The sentiment of
"superiority" or "inferiority" is purely a state of mind. Whether we are smaller (micro) or bigger (macro) than any other portion says nothing about
whether we are "masters" or "slaves" of any other parts. It's simply a fabricated and subjective psychological dualism: we have control over some things and not others. If your point is simply that some fools believe we control *everything* and others believe we control *nothing*, you're only pointing out what is obvious: they're fools.

[GB: Now, now, Bill, let’s not be so harsh. Everyone makes microcosmic and macrocosmic mistakes all the time. No one can know all the causes for any microcosmic-macrocosmic interaction to produce a perfect univironmental analysis even though that is our intention. Univironmental determinism does not see humans as either masters or slaves. The correct philosophy must avoid both solipsism and fatalism.]

TSW:  "The indeterministic response was the Cartesian accord."

BW: It might have been useful to explain the Cartesian Accord (Compromise/Dualism) and then argue against it. You sort of characterize the issue, but cast it in your own dualism:

TSW:  "We need not treat animals - or people - as though they were Newtonian objects - things with nothing inside them except pure, finite, inert matter. We need not treat animals - or people - as though they were systems – things with nothing outside them except an immaterial void."

BW: Cartesian Dualism says nothing about internal/external: both the brain and the mind are internal (Descartes thought the Pineal Gland was the "seat of the soul" or mind). Nor is it about mechanics versus systems, nor materialism versus immaterialism (even if Descartes conformed with the mystic belief that God gave Man his Pineal Gland). The issue is fairly simple: humans change, even when there is no evident internal or external cause for the change.

[GB: Descartes’ accord was his way of moderating the determinism-indeterminism struggle. Science was successfully explaining the universe in terms of matter, but was having difficulty (as always) with motion. That was, of course, because matter exists, but that motion does not. This afforded him the opportunity to hypothesize a separate “existence” for motion, either as the mind or as the soul. You can see his attempt at objectifying motion in the Pineal Gland example you mentioned. The soul, of course, is the quintessential example of the idea of matterless motion. Although no one has succeeded in objectifying the soul, there are remnants of that idea when regressive physicists consider “dark energy” as a kind of matterless motion. Dissidents, such as our good friends Captain Bligh and Paul Schroeder, sometimes try to use the matterless motion concept to turn waves into matter.

I do take issue with your statement: “humans change, even when there is no evident internal or external cause for the change.” This is false. Evident or not, all changes follow Newton’s Second Law of Motion (F=ma). All change involves acceleration.]

TSW:  "We no longer need consider ourselves isolated from the macrocosm, foolishly grasping for a nonexistent, unprecedented freedom."

BW: It's an issue of cause and effect. With no notable change in the environment/macro/external causes, we change our minds. With no notable change in our consciousness/micro/internal state of health or knowledge, we change our minds. It isn't a matter of utter isolation or complete freedom, but a question of how that effect is caused.

[GB: I agree, of course, with your implied view that there are mechanical causes for all effects. True to form, however, you have shown your hand as a believer in free will, which seems dependent on the idea that when a cause is not evident, there isn’t one. That is why I included the Third Assumption of Science, uncertainty (It is impossible to know everything about anything, but it is possible to know more about anything) in the philosophical foundation of “The Scientific Worldview.”]   

TSW:  "To survive mentally, as well as physically, we must be able to predict human behavior."

BW: Even if we know the generic cause for "changing our minds", it doesn't necessarily mean that we can predict how, when, or whether any individual will change ... much less whether we can control their choices. Of course, we assume that all humans have similar motives: to survive and pursue happiness. But, we can't know in advance what choices any individual will make, even if that's a consequence of a different sort of "Uncertainty Principle": that trying to discover precise individual motives can change those motives and the resulting action.

[GB: Right, uncertainty and infinity always means that none of our predictions can be perfect. However, that does not stop us from making predictions, does it? For instance, I predict that when I hit the brakes, my brake lights will flash, and the driver behind me will slow down. So far, that prediction has worked for me, although I also can predict that it may not work at sometime in the future. So it is not generically true that “we can't know in advance what choices any individual will make.” We can know what those choices will be, but only to the degree that we have knowledge about that individual and their previous responses to the changes in a particular macrocosm. Thus, I can predict with quite a bit of success that if I say something positive, certain pessimistic folks are sure to respond with something negative. I stand by the quote above.]

TSW:  "If we are honest and educated we admit that we try to influence others to serve what we judge are our best interests."

BW: Usually true, but not necessarily. Hermits can be honest and educated, with no desire to even contact others, much less influence them. We may pursue our own happiness for our own satisfaction, not to influence others.

For example, I'm writing these emails because I want to clarify the issues you address in my own mind. Just thinking about them and writing them out gives me satisfaction ... totally irrespective of whether or not I change your mind. If you responded "You're Right!", I might be pleased at the affirmation. If you respond "You're Wrong!", it won't diminish what I've already accomplished, for my own purposes.

[GB: You’re Right, we often do not try to influence others. Sometimes we just delete those emails (which BTW might be an error of omission that contributes to the next pogrom). On the other hand, we are quintessential social beings who did not just pop out of nowhere and certainly did not get to where we are without being social, even if we end up being hermits. Hermits also must learn the tools of influence. After all, without language, a hermit could not influence others with the “No Trespassing” signs he might consider necessary for his desired isolation.]   

Next: The Human Microcosm (Part 2 of 2)

cotsw 046

No comments: