All Novembers Come to an End

I set for myself the goal that for the month of November I would write a blog post every day on the topic of science. From there, I made a list of all of the things I wanted to cover and write about.

Though the total blog post count is around 15 or 16, I still covered all the material that I was hoping to. Many of my blog posts were in the range of 10+ pages, so I think that is fine that I didn’t actually hit 30 blog posts. Many of those posts could have been split up into multiple posts. In the end, the content I wanted to cover was delivered.

Science and the scientific revolution was born from curiosity and the inability to accept the status quo in terms of explanatory theories and models of how the universe/world/nature/reality operated. In that same sense, I believe that it is healthy to question science, and to fully grasp what are the fundamental underlying foundational assumptions and beliefs from which the entire pursuit of science rests.

Science provides meaning to our lives, in the sense that it provides a framework, a model, a story line in which we place ourselves within. This framework/model/story line/paradigm/world view gives an explanation for how this does that, and how we relate to the universe we are a part of (whether or not that universe is nothing more than dead, lifeless, inert atoms and forces).

I contend that the mind needs a model, a world view, a paradigm for the sense data that it acquires, for the raw phenomenal experience that it produces and is experienced by the consciousness. The experience of awareness is always of something, and the mind functions in attributing meaning to all of those somethings. A bundle of certain phenomenal experience is classified as the concept of apple, a bundle of another set of phenomenal experiences are classified as the concept of rock, and so on. The concepts we create and impose on the construction of reality, concepts such as home, brother, breakfast, money, marriage, couch, pet, organic food, all must fit together into a cohesive and cogent story line. This story line, this narrative, is to include the set of ALL phenomenal experiences. The instant a new experience comes into existence for you, me, or anyone, the mind experiencing it must place that experience somewhere in the already adopted framework/model/story line/world view/narrative. It must mesh in perfectly, not create any contradictions, and not disturb any of the other concepts set in place.

What I mean is, imagine you were to undergo a brand new phenomenal experience tomorrow. Let’s say you saw something (a thing, an event, who knows) that you have never experienced whatsoever before. This new experience was so novel that you can’t relate it to anything whatsoever you have ever experienced before. You must find a way to relate it to something from which you can derive meaning from it. If it is a visual experience, you can classify it as a physical thing, perhaps a natural organic thing, a living thing, or a synthetic thing; you can classify it by color, by size, geometric shape. If it has an emotional tie to it, you can relate that emotion to one you have experienced before, and make the appropriate associations. If the emotion that occurs in the novel experience is one that you recognize to be similar as a previous emotion from past life experiences, then you can label and categorize that emotion as _____ (happy, sad, good, bad, depressed, etc). In doing so, we derive meaning to the experience, bit by bit.

But if you experience something brand new, one that cannot be classified by any previous experience, one that cannot be explained through any body of knowledge, any previous emotional experience, any previous visual experience, then what then?

This experience will pose a difficulty, a challenge, and will have consequences. The mind, though, will do its best and force a connection, it will force meaning to apply to that experience, as long as one is possible.

Deriving meaning is the strength of any form of ‘knowledge’. Any narrative, any story line that we subscribe to places the events that occur within that narrative/story line (i.e. life) and in doing so provides them with structure, relations and meaning. This is the function of any world view. A world view and any systems of epistemology provides a narrative, a structure, a framework in which all experiences can be given meaning. World views take many forms. World views can be formed and expressed through mythology, through folk lore, through allegory, through religion, through culture and through science. Any explanatory narrative/story line provides this function. In doing so, in providing a narrative/story line what the world view does is provides a script for the mind. A very simple example of script, narrative, and meanings can be seen in food.

Food is a concept. Surely we are capable of putting any object, as long as it is sufficiently small enough, into our mouths and swallowing. But not every object in the world is classified as food. In order for something to be classified as food it is necessary for it to be something that you can put in your mouth and swallow, but it is not sufficient. There must be something else about that object in order for us to call it food. Whatever that is, is a social construct. It could be that it has certain nutritional content, or that it doesn’t kill us. But that is hard to define since even the consumption of too much water can kill anyone, or any food for that matter. And even a rock will have nutritional content, as our body does require metals and minerals. But some things we classify as food, and others not. And so, when we construct a set of all things that we label as “food”, we have created a concept. And any object in the world (which is to say a bundle of phenomena which we give a label and thus meaning to) which we consider to be food, we have now given meaning to that object that was not previously there. A young child that sees an apple for the first time has no idea what that is. It could be anything. It has no meaning for the child yet. But once told that it is food, and given the apple to eat, now the child has ‘knowledge’, but really meaning as to what that object is and how it relates to himself. That object (the apple) has meaning as it relates to himself – it is something edible, it is food. From that point on every other member of the class of ‘apples’ that the child (and in the future as an adult) will see will now be given meaning. That meaning is something edible, with certain benefits, certain flavors, etc, etc. Not just that, but we have a concept of what constitutes a meal. There is nothing objective about “mealness” that is “out there” in nature, in the universe. But we have concepts in our mind as to what a meal is, and what isn’t a meal. A combination of certain foods with the lack of other foods constitutes a meal. This concept of ‘meal’ is another level of meaning that we derive from literally the simultaneous presence of certain foods, which are nothing more than objects that we classify as food, which are nothing more than phenomenal experiences that we classify as objects.

In addition to this, we have concepts of the order in which food is eaten within a meal, as well as what foods belong to which meals. If anyone went to a restaurant and ordered a meal that included appetizers, main dish and desert, one would be completely confused and perhaps even upset if the order of the food presented was: desert, appetizer, main dish. Why? Because we have concepts of what order food is eaten in, and this very order gives us meaning. Not just meaning, but the meanings are organized within schemas/story lines/narratives that provide us with scripts. The idea of eating cake first at a restaurant for a fancy dinner, or even soup for breakfast is not really even on the radar. It is not part of a script on what is the norm for eating a meal. To do that would have a completely different meaning: poor decision making, bad nutrition, weird tastes, etc. Funny how that is. The meaning that we get from an out of order meal is one of irregularity, oddness, lack of social etiquette, and perhaps even improper health. If someone told you they ate popcorn for breakfast and eggs and toast at night to watch a movie, this would be perceived as strange. Popcorn is not really conceptualized as a breakfast food, nor is eggs and toast a movie food. These are not typical of our scripts, of our narratives, of our norms, of our concepts.

In this way, we bundle concepts together into schemas, into narratives, into story lines, and these all provide scripts for us in how to behave, how to relate certain experiences, events, people, places, things, emotions, etc. In its totality, all of this acts to provide meaning for the human experience.

Science, religion, mythology and folklore are all belief systems. They all require assumptions, they all require faith. They all appeal to withhold certain aesthetic preferences and they all are subject to maintaining themselves via convention.

My critique and view of science might seem critical, and it is, but it is not dismissive. Science simply isn’t what we think it is. Science is a system of providing meaning. But it is a system of providing meaning in the exact same way that religion, mythology or folklore is. It is simply providing a framework and model to describe nature/reality/the world/the universe, in much the same way that religion/mythology/folklore is. It provides a structure for explanation, for deriving meaning. Is science and the assertions made within science true? Yes and no. The statements made are just as true and just as false as the statements made by any religion one holds to be true, just as true and just as false as the statements made by any mythology or folklore one holds to be true, just as true and just as false as the statements made by any culture one holds. Viewed from within the given system, the statements made by it are true, whereas viewed from a different distinct system, a differing systems statements are seen as false. The two systems have different criteria for the judgement of truth, and the two are incommensurable. They cannot be compared meaningfully.

Does this mean that science is not worth pursuing? No, it gives meaning to so many people. I think the problem is our relationship to science. To hold it as objective truth and that all other world views (religion/mythology/folklore/etc) are wrong, and only science is right, well, is as meaningless and meaningful as saying that only a certain mythology is true and all other religions/sciences/folklores are wrong. Whichever one you hold to be true is true for you, because that will be how you view your world, view your experience, structure your reality and derive meaning from all your experiences.

You can’t use logic to show that one should be logical. This is illogical and circular. You can’t use science to show that one should accept science. You can’t use the bible to argue that one should follow the bible. For any given system of epistemology, for any given system of knowledge, the criteria of judging whether one should adopt and acquire and use that system of knowledge always rests outside of the system in question. It is always a question of aesthetics (does this system appeal to you, do you enjoy it, does it resonate with you), faith/belief (do you think that it will provide what you seek from it, i.e. meaning, structure and answers/explanations) and the continual adherence to that system of knowledge, no matter what it is, can only be held if it is coherent (the story/narrative it provides is without any major contradictions/plot holes/things that are not explained properly) and agreed upon by convention.

This is a necessary truth. And if it is in fact the case, then it is important then to pick a system that resonates with you, and in realizing that it is just a belief and that each other person is simply doing the same, that a little bit of respect for others and their beliefs might be best.