The Hobby Lobby Ruling – Corporations are not ‘Persons’, Nor Should They Be

The Hobby Lobby ruling on contraception not only went against the stated intent of the law used to justify it, it also went against the opinions of a large majority of Americans. The law used to justify it had the express purpose of preventing minority religious groups from being ‘bullied’ by majority groups, i.e. predominantly Christian jurisdictions preventing the building of Mosques or Synagogues despite zoning rules permitting places of worship and a sizable enough Islamic or Jewish minority wanting to build it. The stated intent of the law did not allow for it to be used for bullying people in the name of the majority religion. The majority religion is in no need of being legally protected, and applying a law expressly intended to do precisely the opposite is simply legal cheating on the part of the Supreme Court.

The gender identity employment equity law, which has been stuck in the house for years and will only get passed by executive order, if at all, also has the support of a large majority of Americans.

According to the most recent study I could find, in the first case 68% of Americans favor organizations legally having to provide contraception up to and including abortion. Even among fundamentalist Christians the figure only drops to 63% in favor. While unsurprisingly those who professed no religion and supported the legal obligation to provide contraceptive benefits exceeded the overall average, at 73%, the group most in favor were American Catholics, 78% of whom supported it.

With the gender identity equality law the same pattern emerged. Although 73% of Americans overall supported the law, a surprising 66% of fundamentalist Christians were among those in favor. Of those professing no religious affiliation the number was again higher, at 77%, while among American Catholics the support jumped to 83%.

While the high support among Catholics may seem counterintuitive given that the Catholic Church is officially against the activities themselves, it makes sense when you consider that for Catholics those are ethical decisions, and it’s not much of an ethical decision if someone else makes it for you.

I have no beef with Hobby Lobby’s owners being Christian, Islamic, Baha’i, Jewish, atheist or if they simply couldn’t care less. I have a problem with the thinking that one person’s beliefs are relevant in any way to anyone else, unless in some way the other person is directly affected in their person. And that has to mean another *person*, not an organization.  Particularly in the case of Hobby Lobby’s owners, their being as ‘corporate owners’ is being conflated with their being as ‘members of a religious group’ (and one that expressly forbids capitalist gain at that).  These are ontologically separate modes of being and no law can join them.  I understand the contradictions, precisely because they are two very compartmentalized areas of experience that for the most part have no relevancy to one another.  If they did there could be no interest on debt, nor any capital accumulation of any sort in a ‘Christian’ country.

I have a bigger problem with corporations gaining rights that pertain to individuals – corporations don’t have ‘faith’ or ‘political feelings’, they are aggregations of people aiming to produce a good or service, and by doing so remain in business, and aggregations don’t have thoughts and feelings, including the very complex intertwining of both known as ‘faith’. This aspect of the ruling bothers me more than the religious bullying involved – corporations already have plenty of power and privilege, but there’s no call to provide them with rights designed for individuals as well.

If corporations stick to their primary task, which is to continue existing, thus continuing to produce the goods or services they produce and keeping their employees employed, almost every ethical dilemma the board of a corporation faces is simply solved. Screwing over customers doesn’t make for longevity, nor does trying to maximize short term shareholder value, nor does treating employees badly. Corporations that take the tack that their proper motive is to maximize profits for shareholders inevitably fail in a short time, inevitably behave in an unethical manner towards employees and customers alike while they do remain in business, and end by screwing over the very shareholders they were supposedly trying to maximize profits for.

As it happens that I need to pick up a ‘craft’ item today, a link of chain to attach to a clasp for a piece of jewelry, Hobby Lobby would be an obvious place to go for such an item but I’ll go out of my way to go to Michael’s instead rather than support the constant addition of irrelevant and dangerous ‘rights’ to the vast privileges corporations already hold

Posted in philosophy | Leave a comment

How the Right and Left Misunderstand the Notion of Team Play, Collective Work and the Role of the Exceptional

It may seem odd to use world football, or soccer, as a paradigm for understanding how people actually work together. However one of the likely reasons for the sport’s rapid increase in popularity, becoming the most subscribed to socio-cultural endeavor in history in 150 years, is that its popularity is in part due to the way it does mimic many aspects of ‘real life’, while simultaneously being ‘just a game’.

Ann Coulter’s recent inane rant on the rise in popularity of the game in the United States gives away a huge number of assumptions that the right bases its ideas on. At the same time, a proper understanding of the game also shows some of the weaknesses in the way the left understands how a ‘team’ should work, whether in a sport or any other collective endeavor.

Coulter sees soccer as ‘inherently’ socialist due to its focus on the team as a whole unit, rather than the simpler one on one situations common to baseball (pitcher vs batter, thrower vs runner, etc.), or the systematic, directed plays used in American football.

Individual achievement is not a big factor in soccer. In a real sport, players fumble passes, throw bricks and drop fly balls — all in front of a crowd. When baseball players strike out, they’re standing alone at the plate. But there’s also individual glory in home runs, touchdowns and slam-dunks.

In soccer, the blame is dispersed and almost no one scores anyway. There are no heroes, no losers, no accountability, and no child’s fragile self-esteem is bruised. There’s a reason perpetually alarmed women are called “soccer moms,” not “football moms.”

Do they even have MVPs in soccer? Everyone just runs up and down the field and, every once in a while, a ball accidentally goes in.” – Ann Coulter

The complex interplay in soccer (and despite her protestations, basketball and hockey are far more soccer-like in this sense) is a team interplay. Despite this, Coulter’s claim that ‘blame is dispersed’ and ‘almost no one scores anyway’ is patently untrue: ask Michael Bradley about blame being dispersed after the last second goal concession to Portugal that put the U.S.’s chances of getting through the group stage at this years World Cup; if ‘almost no one scores’ and the ball just ‘accidentally goes in’, how does she account for players like Messi, Ronaldo, Suarez or van Persie, who consistently score more than anyone else in their respective leagues (and earn magnitudes more than their team mates as a result) ? Still, as idiotic as it is, there is a kernel of truth in it. Partly by virtue of using one’s feet rather than hands, there is more play for randomness in soccer than in baseball or football (which is why money-ball ownership doesn’t work well in soccer – there are too many undefinables to be able to calculate the impact of an individual player in advance, and owners and managers have to go on intuition rather than calculation, which can take more parameters into account, but isn’t as transparent or as simple as a calculative approach), and the way the team plays is crucial in terms of providing the opportunities to score that those players are the best at converting into goals. The right has very little understanding of team dynamics and how the systemic way a team interacts is precisely what provides opportunities that the exceptional are most able to capitalize on, while the left makes the mistake of seeing the exceptional as purely ‘lucky’, and doesn’t recognize that while opportunities are fashioned by the collective, they are most often taken up successfully by those that are exceptional in some manner relating to the specific opportunity.

Chile coach Jorge Sampaoli built a myth — the Legend of La U – around the collective. The idea that ordinary individuals acting in concert can achieve extraordinary things. And, make no mistake about it, with three or four obvious exceptions, the bulk of Chile’s players are no standouts.

It’s the basic concept that applies to almost any team sport. You may be better than your teammate at just about everything, but if he’s open and you’re not or if he’s better placed than you are, you get him the ball and place your trust in him. Space and positioning turn average players into good ones and good ones into greats. And it’s the system — and the diligence and selflessness with which it’s applied — that creates space and positioning.” – Gabriel Marcotti

Without other players making space and allowing playmakers to find the key pass and goal scorers to get opportunities to score, the exceptional players couldn’t be exceptional. This collective work, which may be done by a lot of hard working, but (relatively) unexceptional players, is a key ingredient in ‘total football’ and its descendants. Total football relies on a dynamic systemic understanding of the game, where the pitch is fluid and determined in its topology by the movements of the players, yet it remains true that the team with ‘quality’ in key positions, i.e. key exceptional players, is most likely to win any given game, since those are the players that can ‘convert chances’ created by the systemic play of the team.

The quote from Marcotti is from an article comparing Chile to Brazil, whom they face for the fourth time in world cup history today. While as he notes, Chile’s focus is on the team, on collective play, it is the exceptional players, Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sanchez, who will be of most concern to Brazil. Brazil, for their part, focus on their exceptional players abilities and the rest of the team is expected to play to them. Even their goal scorer, or ‘finisher’, Fred, plays to create opportunities for playmakers like Neymar and Oscar to provide the chances that he then finishes.

That’s the theory, anyway. Because then you have the opposite end of the spectrum. One that looks a lot like Chile’s opponent today, Brazil. There is an obvious top-to-bottom qualitative gap between Luiz Felipe Scolari’s crew and the Chileans. But there is also a philosophical divergence, with blue-collar types serving the superstars.

Luiz Gustavo, Paulinho (or Fernandinho, should he get the start), the two center-backs, Hulk, even Fred the finisher are cogs in a machine that defers to Neymar, Oscar and the two full-backs. It’s not that the latter four don’t work hard, they do, it’s that, when in possession, they’re the difference-makers, they’re the ones with the licence — and the expectation — to create something positive. The rest of the side, very broadly speaking, works to put them in positions where they can generate opportunities. (This applies to Fred as well, whose main job is simply to provide an advanced reference point, create space through movement and convert opportunities.)

Put another way, it’s a team with specialists where players know their roles and there is no shame in deferring to those more talented. In a nutshell: Chile’s patterns are democratic in their distribution and predicated on the notion that danger can come from anyone at any time; Brazil’s based on the idea of getting the best guys in the best positions as often as possible.

At least, that’s the general idea. Because then there’s the X-factor and, in Chile’s case, his name is Arturo Vidal Erasmo Pardo. He may be the most complete midfielder in the world for the simple reason that he combines seemingly disparate skill sets — aggression, workrate, finishing, vision and creativity — in an athletic 5 feet 11 inches frame that makes him Chile’s biggest starter among outfield players.” – Gabriel Marcotti

If you like, Chile is focused as a social collective, while Brazil functions as a more class-based directed group. Yet to be successful against Brazil’s game, Chile can’t rely purely on the collective, but need the exceptional abilities of Arturo Vidal (and Alexis Sanchez) to utilize the situation the collective creates in a positive manner. While the leftist Chileans still need the exceptional, the rightist Brazilians are perhaps over-focused on those exceptions in their own squad.

If your difference maker is as immense as Vidal, why not look for him that little bit more and give him that little bit of extra responsibility, even at the expense of the fluidity, tactics and cohesion that got you there in the first place?

That’s the choice Sampaoli seems to be making today. It’s not a betrayal of his beliefs. It’s simply a tweak of the scales. And you wonder if maybe his opponent — who in that sense is at the opposite end of the spectrum — wouldn’t be better off making a similar tweak towards the center, taking some of the burden off Neymar.” – Gabriel Marcotti

Chile’s manager Sampaoli is rightly celebrated for his tactical approach and the collective discipline with which his players enact it, but to get to the next level requires ‘tweaking’ that approach to enable the exceptional to be exceptional. Simultaneously Scolari, the manager of Brazil, perhaps over relies on his superstars, and a shift towards the collective, towards the team as a team, would take pressure off them and allow the team more collective freedom, leading back to more opportunities for their exceptional players and a greater ease in converting them.

Right wing Randian types appear to have no understanding of the role the hard work of the collective plays in enabling the exceptional, or that luck is simultaneously part of any accomplishment. Left wing types over-ascribe the exceptionality of the exceptional to luck (yes, that they are exceptional is partly luck in itself, but that luck has to have been paired with hard individual work to get a player to the world-class level), not recognizing that the exceptional are more able to take advantage of the opportunities that the collective and luck presents to them.  Neither side appears to understand that in any situation what makes someone exceptional is precisely this ability.

Posted in philosophy | Leave a comment

Fundamentalism as a Response to Rationalism

Fredric Jameson has pointed out that the original topic of a narrative, the narrative “as such,” is the narrative of a Fall, of how things went wrong, of how the old harmony was destroyed (in the case of Hamlet, how the evil uncle overthrew the good father-king). This narrative is the elementary form of ideology, and as such the key step in the critique of ideology should be to invert it— which brings us back to Hegel: the story he is telling in his account of a dialectical process is not the story of how an original organic unity alienates itself from itself, but the story of how this organic unity never existed in the first place, of how its status is by definition that of a retroactive fantasy— the Fall itself generates the mirage of what it is the Fall from. The same paradox holds for belief: viewing the present as an era of cynical non-belief, we tend to imagine the past as a time when people “really believed”— but was there ever an era when people “really believed”? As Robert Pfaller demonstrated in his Illusionen der Anderen, 65 the direct belief in a truth which is subjectively fully assumed (“ Here I stand!”) is a modern phenomenon, in contrast to traditional beliefs-at-a-distance, such as underpin conventions of politeness or other rituals. Premodern societies did not believe directly, but at a distance, which explains the misreading inherent in, for example, the Enlightenment critique of “primitive” myths— faced with a notion such as a tribe having originated from a fish or a bird, the critics first take it as a literal belief, then reject it as naïve and “fetishistic.” They thereby impose their own notion of belief on the “primitivized” Other. We can see how the idea of an earlier age of naïve belief also follows the logic of the Fall: what it obfuscates is the fact that such belief is a retroactive fantasy generated by the “enlightened” present. In reality, people never “really believed”: in premodern times, belief was not “literal,” it included a distance which was lost with the passage to modernity.

Zizek, Slavoj. Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism (p. 953). Norton.


A similar discrepancy can be observed even today between the ‘certainty’ of ‘modern’ belief  and the totalization that certainty implies in the United States, for instance, and the ‘at a distance’, comparatively lighthearted mode of Central and South American cultures.  That those countries are primarily Catholic rather than Protestant allowed the local pre-Christian style of belief to continue in a manner that Protestants in the U.S. find horrifying, since Catholicism rarely tried to do away with older beliefs, but simply incorporated them into its way of being Christian.

The origin of the ‘certainty’ that distinguishes the style of fundamentalist belief, though, is precisely the ‘modern’ science that views religion as a whole, never mind fundamentalist religion, as its enemy.  Fundamentalism took root in the U.S. precisely as a reaction to the totalizing certainty of the western scientific worldview, and is still less than a century old.  Similarly, Islamic fundamentalism is a modern phenomenon, not really taking hold until the 1970s, after many Islamic countries experienced an extended period of exposure to the western liberal scientific outlook.

That rationalism itself relies on an irrationally certain set of core assumptions that are theological in nature is problematic enough, but the fundamentalist style of belief is entirely dependent on the same certainty.

The ‘madness’ of fundamentalism is a response to the style of belief that originated in modern science and rationalism, precisely in that style.  Attributing that style of belief to premodern beliefs is pure revisionism.

Posted in philosophy | Leave a comment

A Quote Worth Reading

… the new community which the capitalists are now constructing will be a very complete and absolute community; and one which will tolerate nothing really independent of itself. Now, it is true that any positive creed, true or false, would tend to be independent of itself. It might be Roman Catholicism or Mohammedanism or Materialism; but, if strongly held, it would be a thorn in the side of the Servile State. The Moslem thinks all men immortal: the Materialist thinks all men mortal. But the Moslem does not think the rich Sinbad will live forever; but the poor Sinbad will die on his deathbed. The Materialist does not think that Mr. Haeckel will go to heaven, while all the peasants will go to pot, like their chickens. In every serious doctrine of the destiny of men, there is some trace of the doctrine of the equality of men.
But the capitalist really depends on some religion of inequality. The capitalist must somehow distinguish himself from human kind; he must be obviously above it—or he would be obviously below it. Take even the least attractive and popular side of the larger religions to-day; take the mere vetoes imposed by Islam on Atheism or Catholicism. The Moslem veto upon intoxicants cuts across all classes. But it is absolutely necessary for the capitalist (who presides at a Licensing Committee, and also at a large dinner), it is absolutely necessary for him, to make a distinction between gin and champagne. The Atheist veto upon all miracles cuts across all classes. But it is absolutely necessary for the capitalist to make a distinction between his wife (who is an aristocrat and consults crystal gazers and star gazers in the West End), and vulgar miracles claimed by gypsies or traveling showmen. The Catholic veto upon usury, as defined in dogmatic councils, cuts across all classes. But it is absolutely necessary to the capitalist to distinguish more delicately between two kinds of usury; the kind he finds useful and the kind he does not find useful. The religion of the Servile State must have no dogmas or definitions. It cannot afford to have any definitions. For definitions are very dreadful things: they do the two things that most men, especially comfortable men, cannot endure. They fight; and they fight fair.
Every religion, apart from open devil worship, must appeal to a virtue or the pretense of a virtue. But a virtue, generally speaking, does some good to everybody. It is therefore necessary to distinguish among the people it was meant to benefit those whom it does benefit. Modern broad-mindedness benefits the rich; and benefits nobody else. It was meant to benefit the rich; and meant to benefit nobody else. And if you think this unwarranted, I will put before you one plain question. There are some pleasures of the poor that may also mean profits for the rich: there are other pleasures of the poor which cannot mean profits for the rich? Watch this one contrast, and you will watch the whole creation of a careful slavery. In the last resort the two things called Beer and Soap end only in a froth. They are both below the notice of a real religion.
But there is just this difference: that the soap makes the factory more satisfactory, while the beer only makes the workman more satisfied. Wait and see if the Soap does not increase and the Beer decrease. Wait and see whether the religion of the Servile State is not in every case what I say: the encouragement of small virtues supporting capitalism, the discouragement of the huge virtues that defy it. Many great religions, Pagan and Christian, have insisted on wine. Only one, I think, has insisted on Soap. You will find it in the New Testament attributed to the Pharisees.
Chesterton, G. K. The G. K. Chesterton Collection (Kindle Locations 79032-79058)


Posted in philosophy | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why The God Delusion is Worthless by the Canons of Science

“the presence or absence of a creative super-intelligence is unequivocally a scientific question.”

Richard Dawkins

If a correlation or hypothesis or law or probability expectation or theory or system pertains to empirical science, then (1) it involves sensible consequences, and (2) such consequences can be produced or at least observed. Inversely, empirical method prescinds from all questions and answers that do not involve distinctive sensible consequences; and it discards all that involve such consequences logically yet fail to be confirmed by the results of observation or experiment.

Lonergan, Bernard (1992-04-06). Insight: A Study of Human Understanding, Volume 3: 003 (Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan) (Kindle Locations 2260-2264). University of Toronto Press. Kindle Edition.

“… as the canon of selection is not to be misinterpreted as a mere charter for obtuseness, still less is it to be taken as a mere excuse for logical fallacy. Questions that do not satisfy the canon of selection do not arise within the confines of empirical science, but it does not follow immediately that they do not arise at all. Issues that cannot be settled by observation or experiment cannot be settled by empirical method, but it does not follow immediately that they cannot be settled at all.”

Lonergan, Bernard (1992-04-06). Insight: A Study of Human Understanding, Volume 3: 003 (Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan) (Kindle Locations 2279-2282). University of Toronto Press. Kindle Edition.

A datum of sense may be defined as the content of an act of seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, smelling. But the difficulty with that definition is that such contents do not occur in a cognitional vacuum. They emerge within a context that is determined by interests and preoccupations. Nor is this true merely of ordinary perceptions, of the milkmaid who laughed at Thales for falling into the well. It is more conspicuously true of the scientific Thales, so interested in the stars that he did not advert to the well. Accordingly, it would be a mistake to suppose that scientific observation is some mere passivity to sense impressions. It occurs within its own dynamic context, and the problem is to distinguish that cognitional orientation from the orientation of concrete living. To be alive, then, is to be a more or less autonomous center of activity. It is to deal with a succession of changing situations; it is to do so promptly, efficaciously, economically; it is to attend continuously to the present, to learn perpetually from the past, to anticipate constantly the future. Thus the flow of sensations, as completed by memories and prolonged by imaginative acts of anticipation, becomes the flow of perceptions. It is of the latter, perceptual flow that we are conscious. It is only when the perceptual flow goes wrong that the mere sensation bursts into consciousness, as for example in the experience of trying to go down another step when already one has reached the floor. Now what differentiates the perceptual flow in one man from that of another is found in the pattern of interests and objectives, desires and fears, that emphasize elements and aspects of sensible presentations, enrich them with the individual’s associations and memories, and project them into future courses of possible fruitful activity. In some such fashion, it would seem, must be explained the differences in the perceptions of men and women, of people in different occupations, different climates, different stages in human history. Hence to become a scientific observer is, not to put an end to perception, but to bring the raw materials of one’s sensations within a new context. The interests and hopes, desires and fears, of ordinary living have to slip into a background. In their place the detached and disinterested exigences of inquiring intelligence have to enter and assume control. Memories will continue to enrich sensations, but they will be memories of scientific significance. Imagination will continue to prolong the present by anticipating the future, but anticipations with a practical moment will give way to anticipations that bear on a scientific issue. Just as the woodsman, the craftsman, the artist, the expert in any field acquires a spontaneous perceptiveness lacking in other men, so too does the scientific observer. Still, there are differences in such developments, and to this fact the scientist alludes when he insists that scientific observation is a matter of seeing just what there is to be seen, hearing exactly whatever sounds are sounded, and so forth. This claim cannot, I think, be taken literally, for the impartial and accurate observer, no less than anyone else, is under the dominance of a guiding orientation. Still, the claim does possess its elements of truth, for the guiding orientation of the scientist is the orientation of inquiring intelligence, the orientation that of its nature is a pure, detached, disinterested desire simply to know. For there is an intellectual desire, an eros of the mind. Without it there would arise no questioning, no inquiry, no wonder. Without it there would be no real meaning for such phrases as scientific disinterestedness, scientific detachment, scientific impartiality. Inasmuch as this intellectual drive is dominant, inasmuch as the reinforcing or inhibiting tendencies of other drives are successfully excluded, in that measure the scientific observer becomes an incarnation of inquiring intelligence, and his percepts move into coincidence with what are named the data of sense.

Lonergan, Bernard (1992-04-06). Insight: A Study of Human Understanding, Volume 3: 003 (Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan) (Kindle Locations 2294-2323). University of Toronto Press. Kindle Edition.


The problem with works such as The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins is thus threefold:

1. It deals with matters that cannot be decided by data of sense, no matter how complex the instrumentation used, nor how involved the reasoning applied.

2. The claim that if it is not a matter for science, it is not a matter for inquiry, is a non-sequitur, which implies that only one who is educated in and has spent significant thought on a matter is relevant to any discussion of the matter. Dawkins qualifies as neither by his own admission.

3. “… the guiding orientation of the scientist is the orientation of inquiring intelligence, the orientation that of its nature is a pure, detached, disinterested desire simply to know. For there is an intellectual desire, an eros of the mind. Without it there would arise no questioning, no inquiry, no wonder. Without it there would be no real meaning for such phrases as scientific disinterestedness, scientific detachment, scientific impartiality.”.

None of these orientations or resulting features of scientific observation are present in any of Dawkins’ works, but are conspicuously absent from The God Delusion and the debates he has been involved in around it.  As has been noted by others, the quote from Dawkins with which I began is pure idiocy from a scientific or philosophical perspective, the kind of idiocy that generally arises from the bigotry that is the real belief-system underlying the 800 or so pages of fallacies published as The God Delusion.

Posted in philosophy | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Basic Equivocation in Scientific Certainty

“Either intelligence anticipates the discovery of functional relations on which relations between measurements will converge, or else it anticipates the discovery of probabilities from which relative actual frequencies may diverge though only at random. The latter alternative has a fairly clear claim to the name ‘statistical.’ The former alternative is not limited to Newtonian mechanics, and in the opinion of many does not regard quantum mechanics. It is a mode of inquiry common to Galileo, Newton, Clerk Maxwell, and Einstein; it is as familiar to the chemist as to the physicist; it long was considered the unique mode of scientific investigation; it has been the principal source of the high repute of science.”

Lonergan, Bernard (1992-04-06). Insight: A Study of Human Understanding, Volume 3: 003 (Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan) (Kindle Locations 2209-2215). University of Toronto Press. Kindle Edition.

This differentiation between ‘classical’ modern scientific method and what might be termed ‘postmodern’ method appears simple enough, however it has a major impact on the ‘certainty’ of science as a whole (since ‘classical’ science can no longer be regarded as any more than a convenient approximation of what is factically statistical), and the maintenance of the appearance of scientific certainty is based on a fundamental equivocation: both probability and certainty have a primary and secondary meaning in statistical science, and the conflation of these two oversimplifies a complex question, which as a result has barely been asked, much less been answered.

“…If events are probable, they do not diverge systematically from their probabilities. But if they occur neither sooner nor later, then there is empirical evidence for the intervention of some systematic factor. However, if with the mathematicians one envisages an infinity of occasions, then the qualifying phrase ‘neither sooner nor later’ admits so broad a meaning that empirical evidence for a systematic factor never can be reached. A common solution to this antinomy is to say that very small probabilities are to be neglected, and this, I believe, can be defended by granting mathematical and denying empirical existence to the assumed infinity of occasions.”

“if probabilities must be verified, it also is true that there is a probability of verifications. But it is of no little importance to grasp that this second probability shares the name but not the nature of the first. For the first probability, apart from random differences, corresponds to the relative actual frequency of events. It is the regularity in the frequencies, and it is to be known by a leap of constructive intelligence that grasps the regularity by abstracting from the randomness. In contrast, the second probability is not some fraction that, apart from random differences, corresponds to the relative actual frequency of verifications. A preponderance of favorable tests does not make a conclusion almost certain; indeed, a very few contrary tests suffice to make it highly improbable. More fundamentally, the second probability is not known by a leap of constructive intelligence that abstracts from random differences, for such leaps never yield anything but hypotheses.”

“the second probability is known through acts of reflective understanding and judgment; it means that an affirmation or negation leads towards the unconditioned; and it is estimated, not by counting verifications and abstracting from random differences, but by criticizing verifications and by taking everything relevant into account. For these reasons, then, we distinguish sharply between ‘probably occurring’ and ‘probably true.’ For the same reasons we refuse to identify ‘certainty’ in the sense of unit probability with ‘certainty’ in the sense of ‘certainly verified.’ It follows that we find it meaningless to represent by a fraction the probability of a verification. Similarly, we find it fallacious to argue that probable events are not certain events because probable judgments are not certain judgments.”
Lonergan, Bernard (1992-04-06). Insight: A Study of Human Understanding, Volume 3: 003 (Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan) (Kindle Locations 2188-2194). University of Toronto Press. Kindle Edition.

The equivocation noted here, when unraveled, results in the conclusion that the kind of verification needed by science in particular, empirical verification, can never itself be certain.  If the verification is not certain, then not only is the theory not certain, which would be no major issue, but the verification of any theory is dependent on the unconditioned which itself cannot be verified, meaning that the probability that a given model is correct is undefinable, and no certainty is possible at all.  The re-founding of science on mathematical certainty is thus demonstrated as a basic fallacy.

The further difficulty for many modern scientists is precisely that they do not simply accept that the unconditioned is itself unverifiable, they vigorously deny its possibility.  If the unconditioned is possible, then a scientific theory may have a possibility of truth.  If the unconditioned is impossible, then so is any truth in science. The results of this impasse can be seen in various paradoxical situations in the current sciences, from cosmology to string theory to cognitive science, the very theories undermine the validity of the subject matter, leading to the inverted question problematizing their very existence “why do we find nothing whenever we study anything deeply enough?”.

This is expressed of course by Kant as the impossibility of knowing anything in-itself and the illusory nature of the knower.  However just as it took modern science half a millennium to distinguish ‘things’ from ‘bodies’, it has taken modern science nearly as long to realize through the practice of research what Kant had already worked out in thinking.
There is however an inherent paradox (and therefore an invalid assumption) in that if both the knower and its knowledge are illusory, what is experiencing the illusion?  There is also an inherent paradox in a study of anything that negates its own topic.  It might seem that the latter is the more general paradox, but in fact they are the same, since we have an immediate experience of that experience, i.e. that of knowing itself in the most general sense.  The attempted rehabilitation of substantialist realism with subjective substantialist realism is a failure, and modern science is a massively elongated experiment that has finally demonstrated its failure, although it is yet to admit it.

The uncertainty inherent in modern science has its foundation in the positing of things as mathematical entities with explanatory conjugates.  Unsurprisingly the greatest heresy in science is identical to the greatest heresy in the theology in which it originated, that explanation, and most particularly explanation from origin, is neither knowledge nor understanding.

Put in mathematical turns, while a theory based on probability can tell you the probability of a given event, the probability that the theory is verifiable is indeterminate.  We can say the probability is 1-n, where n is between 0 and 1, but there is no way to determine what n is.  Intuitively, though, we can say that n grows in a correlation to the complexity of the phenomenon.  This makes any theory (or model) less verifiable as studied phenomena grow in complexity. Given a model of any reasonable complexity, n is liable to be rather large, making the verification of any given model highly unlikely.  Since models of complex systems inherently have very little (if any) predictive capability, the verifiability becomes so improbable that the value of the model is extremely close to zero.  Since ‘classical’ theories are at best approximations to statistical theories, the ‘high repute’ of science turns out to be completely baseless.

Posted in philosophy | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Working Within and Between Ideologies by Dropping One’s Own

Think about global warming from the point of view of someone who grew up taking Ayn Rand seriously, believing that the untrammeled pursuit of self-interest is always good and that government is always the problem, never the solution. Along come some scientists declaring that unrestricted pursuit of self-interest will destroy the world, and that government intervention is the only answer. It doesn’t matter how market-friendly you make the proposed intervention; this is a direct challenge to the libertarian worldview.

And the natural reaction is denial — angry denial. Read or watch any extended debate over climate policy and you’ll be struck by the venom, the sheer rage, of the denialists.

- Paul Krugman, Economist

The interesting thing is that the reaction, in this case from Ayn Rand influenced right wing ideologues who cannot conceive of abandoning their belief that self-interest is the only sensible worldview, is precisely the same as the reaction naïve theists take to any questioning of their worldviews. The anger and vehemence is in fact most common precisely with people who have expended the least personal effort in determining their own worldview. How do we become so dependent on a set of assumptions and beliefs that we had so little to do with choosing in the first place? How is this a ‘natural’ reaction? And if it is a dependency, as it appears to be on initial observation, what about us is dependent on something that in many if not most cases has no significant material impact on our lives?

Those who are pro-science display similar behavior when their assumptions are challenged and fail to question what is at stake for themselves, never mind try to understand what is really at stake for those they criticize. Part of this failure is intrinsic to rationalist assumptions themselves. The assumption that a worldview is a set or system of propositions that can be dealt with as such via deductive and inductive argument misses the phenomenal evidence that those who hold various worldviews most often themselves cannot even express those worldviews in propositional terms.

So the real obstacle, as we try to confront global warming, is economic ideology reinforced by hostility to science. In some ways this makes the task easier: we do not, in fact, have to force people to accept large monetary losses. But we do have to overcome pride and willful ignorance, which is hard indeed.

- Paul Krugman

I have myself been accused of being hostile to science, and while I am critical of belief in science beyond the specific area of human experience where it has its validity, I don’t deny that it is a valid area of human experience. I am also critical of attempting to use a methodology unsuited to studies of complex, systemic matters, when the pressure to do so itself arises out of invalid assumptions introduced into science during the period when it began to refer to itself as ‘modern’. That the methodology in question is more fictitious than believers in science tend to claim, even within the sciences most associated with its adoption, though, may be a clue as to in what the dependency we are looking for consists.

A fairly recent neologism provides a further clue. In anthropological studies the term ‘enskilment’ has become remarkably common, considering the first known usage was only 11 years ago. From the perspective of a reader of Heidegger the similarity to various Heideggerean neologisms produced via the German prefix ‘er’, which has essentially the same effect as ‘en’ in English, and particularly to the one Heidegger himself placed the most importance on – ‘Ereignis’, is an obvious draw towards looking at why the word was coined. ‘En’ in English (and ‘em’) generally adds something along one or more of the following lines to the root : put into, make, provide with, surround with. Enable is perhaps the archetypal word, since it is precisely a type of en-abling that ‘en’ or ‘em’ adds to many of the root words it is used to modify.

If we use this simple way of understanding the effect of the prefix for the sake of comprehensibility, we can see that the immediate effect of the word on first view does correspond rather closely to ‘enabling skill’, but skill as an appropriated mode of being, which of course returns us to Heidegger’s ‘Ereignis’ that has been variously translated as ‘enowning’, ‘event’, ‘event of appropriation’, ‘ownmost event’, all with sufficient justification to be considered correct and even necessary as part of understanding what he is getting at, yet none exhausting the full potential of the word. The second attempt at translating the volume titled ‘Contributions to Philosophy (vom Ereignis)’ without the neologism of enowning, simply using event or the event, doesn’t intrinsically improve the comprehensibility, since an understanding that ‘event’ within the volume always also means what is intended by enowning, event of appropriation, and ownmost event is the only means by which the simple word ‘event’ can carry the wealth of meaning necessary to ‘get’ any of its specific usages.

Skill, of course, in most societies is part of getting along as what one is, or as what one is to be, functionally, within that society. That a rationalist view is more in keeping with the necessary skills in a complex modern urban environment than a simpler, more rural environment is intuitively rather obvious. However simply opposing ‘developed’ urban society with ‘undeveloped’ rural society doesn’t account for more than a marginal difference in average tendencies.

The term modified by the ‘er’ or ‘en’ prefix (in German and English respectively) in Heidegger’s Ereignis, eigen, means ‘own’ in both its English senses (to own as well as one’s own or ownmost), as well as ‘appropriate’ in both its English senses (take as well as ‘proper’ or ‘suitable). In German the word is modified in spelling and pronunciation in its various uses, but English tends to use the same word with a simple assumption of different meanings depending on context. It may seem like doing violence to an anthropological term to introduce a Heideggerean interpretation, but the impulse that generated both neologisms, for me, has a similar source. Particularly in the simpler social milieus that ‘enskilment’ was initially coined for, such as fishermen in remote Icelandic fishing villages, being enskilled as a fisherman, which simultaneously is the most immediate defining aspect of who one is, the enskilment is simultaneously a binding to what is proper or appropriate for a fisherman. That the enskilment of the kind of shared praxes common in religious or scientific communities, for example, is not a pragmatic enskilment, but one that defines the community as a particular community, appears initially to be a significant difference, but in terms of religious communities such as the Irish or Italian Catholics, a shared ritual practice such as prayer is not in a real sense expected to be effectual. The idea that these people somehow ‘expect’ God or Jesus to actually intervene on behalf of the person or situation prayed for is at least questionable, given that in both groups the believed-in beings that would have that kind of ability are far down the list of those prayed to. Catholics in both societies pray to minor local saints, obscure angels and other believed in beings far more than to any member of the trinity, precisely because no actual effect is expected, it is a more a means of expressing concern in a communal manner when effectual action is not available. Similarly scientists, despite their often loud protestations to the contrary, rarely actually repeat an experiment under identical conditions, because it’s not a particularly effective manner of proceeding with research, which is the real praxis they are involved in, not the largely mythical shared praxis of ‘scientific methodology’. These largely ritualistic or at least pragmatically ineffective shared praxes do have a non-pragmatic effect that is of key importance, however, which is to reinforce the non-propositional worldview via meaning-producing behavior that is always already interpreted on the terms of that very worldview.

A further counterintuitive correlation between the sciences and religious belief, and of course also found in political, ethical and economic worldviews, is that the more effort is put in by a given individual in examining his or her beliefs and assumptions, the less vehemence and anger generally present when those are challenged. It’s counterintuitive because one would expect that a challenge to something that someone has spent a good deal of time and effort on would be less well taken than a challenge to something one has expended very little time and effort on. i.e. to those who in an active sense their beliefs and assumptions matter the most are simultaneously those who are most open to them being questioned.

This can be seen in the sciences where a physicalist worldview and a trust in mathematical projection and description as the ‘most certain’ would be expected to be strongest in the sciences that deal with the physical on the most basic levels, and where as a result of the relative simplicity of their subject matter, mathematical description and prediction has proven relatively successful, such as physics and chemistry. As we move towards sciences whose subject matter is inherently more complex, more difficult to account-for via simple physicalist notions, and difficult to impossible to either describe or predict mathematically, one would expect less attachment to the physicalist view of reality and less trust in mathematical certainty. Yet the opposite is evidentially true: eastern thinkers are constantly amazed that physicists are very open to their very non-physicalist ideas, while those whose topics deal with more complex phenomena, such as biologists, neurologists, psychologists and sociologists are far more vehement in their defense of physicalism and mathematical certainty, and become angry at any suggestion that their worldview and tools are not especially well suited for their subject matter.

Similarly within religious communities (and I am sticking primarily with the Catholic, since I know the most about it personally), the average Catholic who has not particular studied even rudimentary theology, dogmatics or Christology is generally the quickest to take offense at any questioning of notions that even on the surface are difficult to reconcile with reason, such as the Trinity, or the statement from the Council of Trent that Jesus was ‘fully human and fully divine’, i.e. not one or the other, nor partly one and partly the other. By contrast theologians are much more open to the difficulties inherent, and theologians that specialize in dogmatics and Christology (really a specialized area of dogmatics) are the least dogmatic about their notions and beliefs, and most willing to question how in any way such beliefs can be reconciled with reason, at least to the degree that if they cannot be demonstrated as being rational, they can at least be demonstrated as not being irrational.

Within economics, those who have spent a good deal of effort and study of economics, similarly, are the most open to the idea that accepted ‘obvious’ economic notions may be intrinsically faulty. By comparison ideologically motivated policy makers and lobbyists have generally spent little time in actual study of economics, yet they are much quicker to behave as though there was a direct material dependency on their specific ideology and any possible functional economic reality.

This brings us back to the notion of dependency, and combined with the notion of the binding nature of enskilment as appropriating people to their proper sense of being their ownmost self, we can begin to move towards a tentative understanding of where the experienced dependency, when no obvious exterior material dependency exists, first arises and is reinforced by the daily routine of getting by in a given community. The specific manner in which enskilment is enacted during our development into the adults we have become produces a meaningful way of being someone, but that being-someone as what one functionally does is dependent on the community in which it both projects and already finds its meaning, which in turn is defined by the meaning-producing, though materially ineffectual, shared praxes that define it as the community it is. The mattering is not a causally effective mattering, but a meaningful mattering, without which any causally effective mattering or materializing would simultaneously be meaningless and unsatisfying.

Krugman’s original point in the quotes above was that from the perspective of materially mattering, the significance economically of making the kinds of changes ecologists are recommending is far too minor to be the origin of the vehemence and anger of the right wing at any mention of the isssue. While I may have used the comments as springboard to discuss belief, particularly ideological (systemic) beliefs, we can go back to his actual topic and it becomes obvious that just as evolutionists’ attempts to syllogistically undermine creationist beliefs simply made the creationists more precise and more rigid both in their beliefs and their expression along with angrier and more vehement, providing evidence, particularly as a syllogistic set of propositions, is likely to produce the same counterproductive effect on right wing ideologues, who unfortunately have significant input into the policies of most of the world’s governments. Instead the arguments need to be couched in the terms and demonstrated as not only compatible with the worldviews of policy makers, but in fact implied by those worldviews. This is not, in point of fact, all that difficult. Those with the self-centered worldview put forward in its extreme form by Rand in a pragmatic sense enjoy their islands, their waterfront property, their ability to enjoy the things their self-centered pursuit of wealth above anything else affords them. But these things are also among the first things that are liable to be affected by global warming. Ecologists need to step outside their own worldview and look at the situation within the parameters that those that need convincing will work within.

Posted in philosophy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment