3.226 uncertainty, cont. (148)

Sat, 8 Jul 89 16:53:19 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 226. Saturday, 8 Jul 1989.

(1) Date: Thu, 6 Jul 89 14:51 EDT (114 lines)
From: John McDaid <MCDAID@NYUACF>
Subject: Response to Richmond

(2) Date: Fri, 7 Jul 89 09:52:00 EDT (14 lines)
From: DEL2@phoenix.cambridge.ac.uk
Subject: Re: [3.218 uncertainty, science, the humanities (63)]

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Thu, 6 Jul 89 14:51 EDT
From: John McDaid <MCDAID@NYUACF>
Subject: Response to Richmond

In 3.212, Sheldon Richmond writes:

>It seems that to mention that quantum mechanics, the Uncertainty
>Principle, and Bohr's Copenhagen Intepretation have been questioned and
>debated by philosophers of physics and philosophically minded physicists,
>has resulted in various ad hominem remarks that those who question
>quantum mechanics must be 'anthropocentric', and by implication,

With regard to ad hominem remarks, I would like to remind Professor
Richmond that it was his initial posting which referred to quantum
humanists as "anti-intellectual," "dogmatic," and "hyper-rational" (which
hurts worse than being called anti-intellectual, let me tell you, Sheldon...)
protecting their "self-congratulatory" quantum doctrinal adhesions because
it gives them "a free ride" with "meaningless content," since people who
think quantum mechanics is a reasonable approximation will construe the
university as a "big joke."

He then goes on to respond to me personally. The next paragraph is my
summation, which he quotes, followed by his response.

>>The desire to deny quantum reality, is, at base, a desire to erect the
>>human as the measure of reality, and to re-enshrine the accidents of
>>evolution as fundamental truth. I think that this attitude, rather than an
>>honest investigation into the implications of quantum mechanics and
>>introspective pedagogical enactment, which can rightly be called anti-

>This statement presumes that quantum physics is the measure of "quantum
>reality", as opposed to being the best current theory of fundamental

The statement makes no such move. The statement says that the desire to
deny the indeterminacy of our knowledge of the universe is an attempt to
crawl back into the womb of naive realism.

>All that we humanists can do is to submissively state the implications of
>the current physics which is the positive measure of reality.

This is the opposite of what the statement says. Anyone who reads Popper
should see that his notion of the enterprise of physics is phenomenology
writ large. (Or at least, the pragmatic American flavor characterized by C.I.
Lewis) We are therefore _doing_ physics all the time, in the sense of
creating falsifiable hypotheses about experience. What I am arguing
_against_ is the characterization (which Richmond seems committed to)
that entertaining indeterminist hypotheses rots the mind.

>This remark documents my point about current hyper-rationalism and its
>anti-intellectualism: 'What physicists of the day say about reality, must
>be true, or close to the truth, either because they have evidence for it, or
>because they are in a position to know. Whatever the current state of
>physics is, physics must be rational; so all that intellectuals can do, is to
>submit to the dictates of physicts.'

I am not now, nor have I ever been, a hyper-rationalist. I _am_ a
phenomenologist, and as such, I reject the twisted construal of my text as a
passive acceptance of ultimate knowledge. The text, in fact, says the
opposite: that there are things which cannot be known. I do not accept
quantum mechanics as the "true state of reality," but rather, as a
philosophically interesting and pragmatically fruitful perspective, from
which follow certain implications. (The Copenhagen Interpretation does not,
however, imply that the university is a joke.)

>When a teacher says that anyone who questions quantum mechanics is being
>'anthropocentric', she is enshrining the current view of physics as a dogma.

What I actually said about anthropocentrism was, "We have, finally, to give
up our anthropocentric notion that reality on the quantum level must be just
like the world we grew up in so we can understand it." I think it does
violence to this sentence to characterize it as enshrining _any_ view of
physics--or any human perception--as dogma. Except, of course, for
Popperian fallibilism, which is of course, infallible. :)

In criticising Douglas de Lacey's response, Richmond says:

>This anti-intellectual world view ( that the mind creates fictional worlds
>of its own making which are the only reality we can know; and all the
>products of mind, however apparently inconsistent and irrational, have a
>deeper layer of motivation and intellegibility) is responsible for a general
>malaise among intellectuals, and, in part, responsible for the general
>undervaluing, both economically and morally, of our educational

>The general malaise is that our intellects cannot expect to gain any hold on
>the real world; and that the products of our mind are chimerical, and have
>no real value beyond giving a few people tenure in universities.

I think that ultimately, it's kind of sad to think that we humanists have such
a low resistance to general malaise; that admitting our perceptions are
mediated and hence fallible leads us so inevitably to a total destruction of
value. As Lucy once said in a Peanuts cartoon, "I was outside skipping rope,
and suddenly it all seemed so pointless..." While I agree that postmodern
uncertainty requires an intellectual rigor that wasn't required When We
Knew The World, it seems facile to couple this challenge to our alleged
quantum hopelessness.

If to shake off this creeping malaise, if to be an intellectual, I must believe
that the mind does not create fictional worlds, then I would rather not be
thought of as an intellectual. So be it. But that does not mean that I take the
products of our minds to be "chimerical," but rather that the central task of
consciousness, hence, the central task of mind as enactment of cosmic
evolution, (to paraphrase Paul Levinson) is the search for meaning-making
patterns. This does not make my limited "knowing" valueless, rather, it
gives it an honest urgency in the face of a bewildering, challenging universe.
If believing that human thought and its Sisyphean self-evolution are the
most important thing is anti-intellectual, then heck, I guess that's what I

-John G. McDaid
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------22----
Date: Fri, 7 Jul 89 09:52:00 EDT
From: DEL2@phoenix.cambridge.ac.uk
Subject: Re: [3.218 uncertainty, science, the humanities (63)]

David Megginson's comment about the impossiblility of accurate tuning
of a TV reminded me forcefully of a splendid book replete with
comparable and evocative analogies, for those interested
in this discussion. It is Douglas Hofstadter, *Goedel, Escher, Bach;
an Eternal Golden Braid*, published (I think) by Harvester in UK and I
don't know who in US. I would be interested to know what other
HUMANISTs think of it.
And does anyone know how to transmit an umlaut over e-mail?

Douglas de Lacey.