3.248 uncertainty and academic discussion (118)

Fri, 14 Jul 89 21:20:24 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 248. Friday, 14 Jul 1989.

(1) Date: Friday, 14 July 1989 0923-EST (66 lines)
Subject: Uncertainty and Academic Discussion

(2) Date: Thu, 13 Jul 89 21:30 EST (32 lines)
Subject: haising Heisenberg

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Friday, 14 July 1989 0923-EST
Subject: Uncertainty and Academic Discussion

I suspect that many HUMANISTs like myself have followed the
recent discussion of Heisenberg, etc., with great interest
but also with feelings of discomfort, even dispair, at the
tone and direction of some of the comments. As a person who
comes from a conservative protestant biblicistic religious
and educational background, I have often heard people appeal
to "Heisenberg's Principle of Indeterminancy" as a way to
avoid or defuse certain attempts at consistent rational
discussion aimed at "objective" results. Usually the appeal
to "Heisenberg" has been simplistic and irrelevant to the
discussion. It has served as an escape from looking carefully
and with "academic discipline" at the issues at hand. Thus
I think I understand the sorts of things that often lie
below the surface, or sometimes on the surface, of the recent
HUMANIST exchanges, and I have felt comforted and further
enlightened in my own suspicion about misuses of "Heisenberg."

Nevertheless, I find the tone of the discussion frequently to
be counterproductive to what I would consider appropriate
academic and wissenschaftlich communication. Although Sheldon
Richmond may not intend this to be so (or perhaps he does!),
the use of such terms as "anti-intellectual" or "hyper-rational"
do little or nothing to further open discussion. They ring out
as confrontational, encouraging defensiveness rather than open
discussion of issues. As some HUMANISTs have already pointed
out, "intellectual" and "rational" and similar terms need to be
contextualized in relation to some set of standards commonly
agreed on by the discussants. If one wanted to play Richmond's
epithet game (and I do not want to do so!), it could be said
that the very use of such terms is itself "anti-intellectual"
insofar as it tends to restrict the sort of open discussion
that it claims to want to foster! Most of the people I know
have a point at which they cease to be "open" for one reason
or another, although usually many of them are quite "intellectual"
and normally "rational" in their academic discussions that take
place in the framework in which they are willing to be "open."
Why should I brand them "anti-intellectual"?

John Baima introduces into the discussion another term, "faith,"
that seems to me to represent legitimate issues but is so loaded
in other ways (and multi-valent) as to be largely unhelpful.
But I do agree that it is very important to recognize that at
various points in such a discussion we each need to determine
what authorities we trust (and why) for matters not subject to
our own individual investigation, what assumptions we use (or
take for granted) as building blocks and operational principles
(e.g. regarding the possibilities and limits of human rational
investigation, goals such as "objectivity," etc.), whether we
impose any limits on the context of acceptable discussion
(and why), etc. Many of our supposed points of difference in
many of our academic (and other!) discussions are really
differences in assumptions and perspectives, but until this
is explicated we go around in circles seeming to be arguing
about firm "evidence." Somewhat in this context, and to pick
again on Sheldon Richmond (didn't he get us into all this in
the first place?) in a friendly way, what IS the difference
between a "scientific" theory and a "philosophical" theory or
interpretation? I think the answer to that sort of (what I see
as a jargon) issue may help me to see just where Sheldon is
coming from, in terms of assumptions and contextualization.

Bob Kraft (Religious Studies, Univ. of Pennsylvania)
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------36----
Date: Thu, 13 Jul 89 21:30 EST
Subject: haising Heisenberg

I can't figure out if we are discussing Heisenberg
in order to understand the theory of quantum
mechanics (or perhaps the philosophy of the ...)
or if we are trying to understand those who DO
quantum mechanics. (Quantum mechanics are people too!)
Perhaps the issue of the existence
and nature of what has been called here "anti-intellectual
activity" could be illustrated with something else.
For me it is very difficult to seperate the two,
especially when I am having to work so hard to try
to understand if the statements on quantum mechanics
are correct. And just to make that clear, the reason
I'm finding that hard is because they are in "English"
when statements about quantum mechanics are really much
easier to understand in the mathematical language
invented for it. Translating the English symbols into
the math symbols, and then seeing if they are correct
is hard work. For example, I could state the derivation
of Heisenberg's uncertainty relation in about 20 lines
of mathematics, but it would take many pages in English.

So what I would like to suggest is that the discussion
split in two, one part discussing the anti-intellectual
issue, and the other discussing the ideas of quantum
mechanics. I'd be quite happy to listen/participate
in eithor, but I'm getting confused doing both
at the same time.
dan evens <evens@utorphys>