Friday, May 04, 2007

Late night ramblings in my second all-nighter; attention paid should be little to none. Scientific theories are the product of informed imagination, and truth is more boring when you think of it as just getting the world straight. "What can be done with fewer assumptions is done in vain with more." -- William of Occam, and why religion is unnecessary for morality (although on a large scale it tends to help).

Ramblings... Ah, life. How you treat me these days both amuses and confuses me, I must admit. So beautiful and so painful sometimes, a very bitter bittersweet.

Enlightenment philosophy and the French Revolution were like that, which is why my paper due today will likely be a projection of my own state of mind. God willing, it will be a good paper. A bit off topic perhaps, but if Boyer's got half a brain or all a heart, he'll appreciate it. Such devastating optimism, both in my last statement and the French Revolution, but such is the result of philosophical extremes.

What a tragic hero Robespierre was! Weeks before his beheading, he wrote of "The peaceful enjoyment of liberty and equality; the reign of that eternal justice whose laws have been inscribed, not in marble and stone, but in the hearts of all men, even in that of the slave who forgets them, and in that of the tyrant who denies them.” So noble. So wretched.

It failed, as all extremes must. Compromise and moderation, while forever antagonizing to the young and active, must rule our rebellious minds. To commit to a philosophy so blindly and whole-heartedly is to almost ensure its fall. Perhaps it is merely the result of scientific training, but it seems to follow that one must always be prepared to see the destruction of one's own ideas. If they are false, they will fall, and you should delight to see them fall before the truth.

There are indeed those who fall in love with their theories, and joyously sacrifice everything for them. You have Robespierre, who died for his optimism. You have Condorcet: "How consoling for the philosopher who laments the errors, the crimes, the injustices which still pollute the earth and of which he is often the victim is this view of the human race, emancipated from its shackles, released from the empire of fate and from that of the enemies of its progress, advancing with a firm and sure step along the path of truth, virtue, and happiness! It is the contemplation of this prospect that rewards him for all his efforts to assist the progress of reason and the defense of liberty." He wrote this from his prison cell, the Reign of Terror intensifying around him.

There are those in science who stand by their theories, staking (and often losing) their professional credibility, their funding, and their reputations on them. The high suicide rate among theoretical physicists in the late 19th - early 20th century evidences this to a higher degree. It is a mantra in science today: make your mistakes quickly; funeral by funeral, theory will advance.

There are also, and this is another pet peeve of mine, those who tragically misinterpret the philosophy of science, and get caught up in the fury of reductionism and postmodern unreality.

Reductive megalomania exists only in philosophy, not in the sciences. Complexity is what interests science in the end, not simplicity. Reductionism is the way to understand it. The love of complexity without reductionism makes art; the love of complexity with reductionism makes science.

As preventing my hands from shaking while I type gets more difficult, I must bid you good-bye for now; I should save some incoherence for my paper. Only 10 more pages to go...


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