Monday, September 7, 2009

What have we changed our minds about?

I'm reading one of John Brockman's collections of essays with intellectuals (actual, not pseudo, at least it seems so): What have you changed your mind about?

I find it fascinating. The question:
When thinking changes your mind, that's philosophy. When God changes your mind, that's faith. When facts change your mind, that's science.
What have you changed your mind about? Why?
Science is based on evidence. What happens when the data change? How have scientific findings or arguments changed your mind?
Brian Eno provides the introduction with some doctrinaire conservative & Bush bashing but points out how easily we tend to recognize familiar patterns and jump to conclusions based on those snippets of information. He asks, once you start picking apart your beliefs, where do you stop? "How much of the rest of your intellectual world are you going to have to pick apart?"

Chris Anderson says, after initially being agnostic on climate change he is now a carbon zealot. He claims his positions are so extreme he also annoys environmentalists. And also that some of his best friend's are black. At least, he makes one of those claims.

Brian Goodwin apparently has grown senile. And become a 50-year old hippy chick earth mother. Which is OK, of course.
...everything has some basic properties relating to experience or feeling... pan-sentience... the world is impregnated with some form of feeling in every one of its constituents...
It's an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us, and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together."
Science can now be about qualities as well as quantities, helping us to recover quality of life, to heal our relationship to the natural world, and to undo the damage we are causing to the Earth's ability to continue its evolution along with us.
Or maybe some of that was Obi-Wan Kenobi. I'm confused.

Sam Harris strikes more of a chord with us:
I once trusted in the wisdom of nature... I now believe that this romantic view of nature is a stultifying and dangerous mythology.
The history of life on this planet has been one of merciless destruction and blind, lurching renewal.
Harris asks:
[What] is the alternative to our taking charge of our biological destiny? Might we be better off just leaving things to the wisdom of nature? I once believed this. But we know that nature has no concern for individuals or for species. Those that survive do so despite her indifference.
...Could any rational strategy be more dangerous than following the whims of nature? This is not to say our growing capacity to meddle with the human genome couldn't present some moments of faustian overreach. But our fears on this front must be tempered by a sober understanding of how we got here. Mother Nature is not now, nor has she ever been, looking out for us.
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We are a like mind with Harris on this point. It was also something about which we have changed our mind. Mother Nature kills. I'll post more on the book and this topic.

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