Toward a Buddhist Philosophy of Science
Science is the cornerstone of the European-American culture that has transformed the entire globe over the last few centuries. Buddhism is a deeply rooted religious tradition of Asia, now emerging as a powerful global voice. Science and Buddhism both address the nature of human experience, but in quite different ways. Science elaborates and refines a collection of interconnected theories, facts, procedures, and equipment, constituting an ever more powerful tool for working with and in the world. Buddhism focusses more on the mind and how our way of thinking affects our experience.
Both science and Buddhism show how everyday appearances arise from underlying structures. By understanding these structures one gains new freedom, to choose among alternatives by working effectively with the cause and effect relations. Science has given us great power to understand and change the world. But this power has also let us create new and bigger problems for ourselves. Without examining how the dynamics of mind underlies our experience, it might seem that the evolutionary path of science and technology is a matter beyond our choice or responsibility. But the profound insights of Buddhism reveal that our perceptions and actions arise in habitual self-reinforcing cycles, and the methods taught in the Buddhist tradition enable us to intervene in these cycles.
Science and technology in some form or other, which is to say some way of thinking about and working with the world, are a fundamental dimension of human existence. Modern science has blossomed by driving the refinement of ideas through public debate grounded in clear evidence. Buddhism shows the dynamics underlying any such evolving pattern of experience, and provides tools to open these patterns to boundless freedom and joy.
Here I explore some dimensions of science where Buddhism might be able to open new possibilities:
This essay is being written by Jim Kukula.
Introductory Sketch of Buddhism
Buddhism got started around 500 BC when Siddhartha Gautama, the sage of the Sakya clan, got disgusted by his life and circumstances and left home to devote himself to meditation. Some years later he experienced profound realization and began teaching, eventually accumulating a substantial following around the Ganges valley in India. The path he taught consisted of a code of conduct, a variety of meditation techniques, and doctrines about the nature of the world and humanity.
This school plugged along in a small way for a couple hundred years. Then Emperor Ashoka around 300 BC converted to Buddhism. He worked to promote Buddhism across his empire, which extended through most of modern day India and beyond into Pakistan etc. He also sent Buddhist missionaries to distant places such as Greece. Buddhism continued to grow in India, with ups and downs, over the next centuries. By 700 AD there were several great Buddhist universities in India with over 10,000 students each. Buddhism spread to Sri Lanka, Burma, Cambodia, and Indonesia. Buddhism also spread to the northwest, into Afghanistan and up into Turkestan, and from there along the silk route into China. Buddhism reached China perhaps in 200AD. Buddhism got to Japan around 700AD, and Tibet about the same time.
Buddhism coexisted with other local religions in most places, e.g. Vedic religion in India, and Taoism and Confucianism in China. There tended to be a lot of borrowing back and forth across religions over the centuries. Buddhism even picked up elements of Greek culture from the remains of the Alexandrian empire around Afghanistan. For example, the typical statues of Buddhas are based on Greek sculptures of Apollo.
Eventually the spread of Islam from the West in the period 700-1300 AD wiped out Buddhism in India and the Northwest, but Buddhism continued to thrive in Ceylon, Burma, Cambodia, China, Japan, Tibet, and Mongolia. With this temporal and geographic scope, Buddhism is clearly one of the great world religions. As one might expect, Buddhism has accumulated a very wide spectrum of philosophical schools. I hope my quick sketch here will not be too far out on the fringe.
The core of the Buddha's teaching is that suffering arises from confusion, from the emotional turmoil caused by this confusion, and from the unskillful actions driven by that mix. The path taught by the Buddha attempts to liberate beings from suffering, addressing unskillful action with a code of conduct, emotional turmoil with meditation, and confusion with doctrine about the nature of things.
The doctrines about the nature of things are perhaps most relevant to the discussions here. Our general widespread confusion is one that takes objects to behave and exist in ways that they actually don't. We tend to perceive and conceptualize things as if they existed as stable, enduring, isolated, and well-defined. But in fact things are constantly changing and only exist as a parts of patterns, interrelated with other things.
The Buddha's teachings on the nature of things were memorized and interpreted and eventually written down in various ways, forming classically 18 different schools. Typically these analyse the objects of everyday life by reducing them to composite structures built up from elements, variously categorized by the different schools. Generally the categories fall coarsely into the five heaps of form, feeling, perception, conception, and consciousness. The elements in these categories are generally held to exist only momentarily, continuous existence being an illusion based on the successive momentary appearance of similar elementary components.
By 100 AD or so the Madhyamika school had emerged, championed by Nagarjuna. Nagarjuna argued that even these various elementary components do not exist as distinct isolated well-defined entities, but only exist by virtue of participating in a pattern of interrelationship.
I hope this very short explanation serves to reduce confusion and does not create confusion or emotional turmoil or lead to unskillful action!!!
Science and Society
Science and its metaphysical foundations are of crucial importance today. The technological transformation of the world, guided by scientific principles, is an ongoing process of staggering impact. These principles are applied not only to blatantly mechanical systems such as automobiles, but also guide our thinking and acting in social situations. A clearer understanding of the nature of science can help us with many key contemporary issues.
" Our actions today are creating problems of ever greater magnitude for which we do not have clear solutions. Examples include the accumulation of nuclear wastes, changes in the atmospheric composition due to industrial by-products, depletion of non-renewable resources such as petroleum, depeletion of potentially renewable resources such as fresh water, and extinction of biological species. Our actions that create these problems are so tightly interwoven with our way of life that to avoid these actions would require major changes in that way of life. Thus we are faced with a very high stakes decision. A key factor in that decision is an estimate of future growth in human knowledge and capability. Is it wise to choose a course of action that relies on substantial future scientific and technology progress to avoid catastrophic consequences? Can we rely on science to come to the rescue?
" Sometimes scientific evidence appears that points out the need to take unpleasant action in order to avoid some potentially severe negative result. For example, there is evidence that global carbon dioxide emissions must be reduced dramatically if negative climatic changes are to be avoided. How strong must scientific evidence and consensus be in order to make such difficult choices? Does science ever reach absolute certainty about cause-effect relationships in the world? Does the need for further research ever stop? If the scientific debates continue endlessly, how can science be used to inform decision making?
" Science generates knowledge which enables action through development of technology. New knowledge can give us new capabilities to perform destructive actions, or actions with very uncertain consequences. For example, advances in biotechnology such as genetic engineering give us the power to introduce new species. We may also be able to genetically engineer human beings. If we decide we do not want to perform certain classes of actions, should we avoid generating scientific knowledge that could enable those actions?
" Once technology has been developed with great destructive potential, such as nuclear weaponry, is it wise or practical to attempt to restrict the dissemination of the scientific knowledge that provides the basis for that technology? Won't independent scientific progress just regenerate that knowledge? On the other hand, technology can be developed with great positive potential, such as a new medicine. Is it necessarily unethical to restrict the use of that technology or to restrict the flow of its underlying knowledge, e.g. to protect the profits returned to the investors who funded the development of that technology? Can it ever be good or right to block the spread of truth?
" The generation of scientific knowledge itself involves performing a variety of actions. These actions may be expensive or ethically negative. For example, many scientific experiments involve pain, sickness, or untimely death for human or animal subjects. Projects such as interplanetary expeditions involve huge government expenditure. What is a wise, appropriate price to pay for scientific knowledge?
" Institutional decision making is informed by a variety of expert opinions. The authority given to these experts is often derived from their credentials acquired in the scientific community. For example, scientists give expert testimony in judicial proceedings. How should the authority of scientific expertise be weighed against other sources of expertise? How much danger is there of such power corrupting the validity of scientific credentials? How can we protect ourselves against this danger?
" Not all knowledge is scientific. Other institutions cultivate and transmit knowledge, most notably religious institutions. These different bodies of knowledge are generally not mutually consistent. Scientific and religious institutions often view each other's knowledge as being invalid. Can a healthy society support multiple inconsistent bodies of knowledge, or must such conflicts be resolved in favor of some single self-consistent body of knowledge? Should invalid knowledge be tolerated? Should non-scientific knowledge be tolerated?
" Not all institutions that claim to be scientific are in fact scientific. Indeed, scientific institutions somtimes suffer lapses such as fraud. How can valid scientific knowledge be distinguished from fraudulent or false science?
What is Science?
Science is a complex human enterprise, involving many activities such as:
" a laboratory technician figuring out what's wrong with a piece of equipment and how to fix it
" a scientist deciding which data to include in a research paper and how to interpret it
" a scientific journal editor consulting with referees on whether or not a submitted paper merits publication
" a faculty committee planning the undergraduate curriculum, which topics need to be covered and what order will work best.
" corporate managers weighing potential return on investment from various possible research and development efforts
These activities leave their marks on the world, from the scientist's immediate surroundings with journals lining library shelves and laboratories filled with equipment and materials, to industry with equipment and materials on a much larger scale, to the world at large with the pervasive presence of technology and its byproducts. The effects of science are not merely material - science transforms human experience. Our outlook is not only changed by the broader range of experience enabled by transportation and communication technology. We live surrounded by ever more sophisticated machinery whose behavior constantly trains our perceptions and expectations. The ideas about the world developed by scientists are widely taught in schools and popular literature and have become an integral part of human culture around the world.
Science and technology have made spectacular progress since the scientific revolution 300 years ago. Physics outines the detailed structures of atoms and stars. Biochemistry traces the contruction of proteins from their DNA blueprint. Technology based on science puts men on the moon and ten million transistors on a chip. Given this solid track record, what room is there for questions about the nature of science?
To be able to do a thing successfully does not imply a thorough understanding of the processes that participate in that doing. The best scientists in the world don't understand the complex physiology engaged in a basketball shot, but that doesn't get in Michael Jordan's way! A key tactic in science is specialization. A scientist studying the structure of bat's wings is not liable to be very knowledgeable about stellar evolution. Disciplines such as psychology and anthropology study human behavior and social institutions, but have not achieved the level of reliability and predictability achieved in the physical science, due in part no doubt to the complexity of the object of study. Science however is a manifestation of human behavior and social institutions. A thorough scientific understanding of science is a very tall project! The best psychologists and anthropologists might have some small inkling of what is going on with science. Just like Michael Jordan probably knows very little about the anatomy of the optic nerve despite being a skilled user of that apparatus, it is unreasonable to expect an expert in aerodynamics to have a particularly enlightened understanding of how science works. Our great accomplishments in science do not imply any similar depth of understanding of the nature of science.
My main focus here will be on relationship between the scientific description of the world and the world itself. The scientific description includes raw records of experimental data, theoretical formulations of the general structure of phenomena, and everything in between. It is embodied in scientific journals, operating manuals for laboratory equipment, notebooks, chalkboards, videotapes, and the evanescent vocal performances of scientists in lecture and dialog. This description is constantly evolving as scientific activity proceeds. One simple and common notion of science is that this evolution is progressing or could progress toward some ultimately ideal description, a description that would be perfectly satisfactory. Much scientific activity is focussed on finding and fixing errors in the current scientific description. The ultimate description would have no errors, so no more fixes would be needed. Is a perfectly error-free description of the world possible? If not, can a description be created all of whose errors can be safely and comfortably neglected? If all descriptions are alike in being erroneous, is there any valid criterion for selecting a description to guide action in the world?
The discipline of philosophy of science has developed around various ways to address these questions. This being a specialized discipline, most people, even most scientists, are unaware of the variety of positions taken by the various schools. Occasionally results or controversies will spill out into the public eye, as with the current "Science War" debates, triggered by books such as Gross and Levitt's Higher Superstition. Ultimately a Buddhist philosophy of science could add a new and valuable voice to this conversation. This will require responses to each of the principal positions held by the various philosophies of science. What I hope to do in this essay is merely outline some of the basic difficulties that any philosophy of science must address, and to indicate how a Buddhist perspective can contribute positively.
The Relevance of Buddhism
The Buddhist tradition is over 2500 years old. Certainly when Shakyamuni Buddha taught, he did not discuss differential equations, quantum fields, quarks, etc. Nor did he discuss the scientific method, laboratory procedures, peer review, etc. So it might seem that Buddhism wouldn't have anything substantial to say about science. But both Buddhism and science grow out of questioning and examining the nature of the world and our existence. Buddhist philosophers starting with Shakyamuni Buddha have closely examined the role our ideas about the world play in the ongoing evolution of our experence in the world.
world tends to be full of uncomfortable surprises. We humans apply a lot of effort,
trying to protect ourselves from these surprises. Much of this effort involves
rearranging the world, such as growing food, building houses, etc. We also build
up ideas about the world, classifying and naming objects, and noting the regularities
in their behavior. Once we know how to predict eclipses they are not so surprising
or frightening. While these efforts are successful to a large degree, still rude
surprises continue to intervene. On such occasions we might decide to investigate
things a bit more deeply, to find the hole to be able to patch it. The world turns
out not to be exactly the arrangement of objects that we thought it was. How is
it then? Our investigation might proceed in a variety of directions.
We work hard to arrange things in some satisfactory way. At some point we might actually succeed. But the next day, things have changed. The paint peels, the fruit rots, the cloth frays. Youth ages, health turns to sickness, then death. What is the nature of change? How can it be, that what is a fact on one day is not a fact the next day?
Thinking about the nature of change has a very deep history both in the scientific tradition going back to Zeno's paradoxes and in the Buddhist tradition. It is worthwhile to study this matter closely. At one point in time we can truly say, "X is true", and then some time later we can truly say, "X is false". This mystery is traditionally illustrated by a variety of ways to fill in the blank X. Zeno tells the story of Achilles, the fastest human, chasing a tortoise, a much slower animal. When Achilles sets off, the tortoise is on the other side of the field, some 100 yards distant. At that time we would truly say, "Achilles has not caught the tortoise." Some time later we would expect to be able to say, "Achilles has caught the tortoise." In Indian philosophy a classical way to fill in for X is to consider the growth of a seed into a sprout. At first we can say, "The seed has not sprouted," then later we say, "The seed has sprouted."
I would like to continue the discussion in the abstract form of "X" and "not X". This is a common scientific move from concrete to abstract and mathematical. Rather than examing science from a Buddhist perspective, do I not by such a move instead introduce a scientific approach into Buddhism? But such a move is native to Buddhism. The Buddha was asked whether his teaching wouldn't be distorted and falsified if translated into other languages. The Buddha replied, "No," that his teaching, the holy Dharma, should be translated to be made more easily understood by whatever audience was at hand. Buddhism for a scientific audience needs to be translated into a scientific language. Furthermore the great Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna acknowledges the validity of using concepts for discursive purposes without those concepts themselves being granted any more that provisional validity. So, on with X...
I want to look more closely at how it could be that at one time X is true and then at some later time X is false. There must be some last time when X is true - let's call that A. Similarly there must be some earliest time when X is false, which we can call B. Now, what is the temporal relation between A and B? Is A before B? Is A after B? Are A and B actually the same time? But none of these possibilities makes sense. If A and B are the same time, or if A is after B, then X is both true and false for at least an instant of time, which can't happen. But if A is before B, then there is a time right between these when X is neither true nor false, which can't happen either!
One classical resolution of this paradox is to claim that change cannot actually happen. If X is true at one time, then X is always true. If it looks like X becomes false, then this appearance of becoming is illusory. What really exists, exists permanently, changelessly. The rude surprises of life are in fact illusory. The cure is to free oneself of this illusion, to train oneself and transform oneself so one's experience is only that of the eternal realm of unchanging truth.
At the heart of physics, at the heart of science, lies the differential calculus of Newton and Leibniz. Since its origin some 300 years ago this calculus has been elaborated and refined. Careful methods of reasoning now permit more sophisticated resolutions of the paradox of change.
From a mathematical physics perspective, the paradox arises from a flaw in reasoning. It is not valid to claim that, "There must be some last time A when X is true." Physics models time as real numbers. Real numbers are built up starting with integers like 1, 2, 3, then adding rationals like 1/2 and 2/3, and finally filling in the infinitesimal spaces between neighboring rationals with irrationals like pi and the square root of 2. Not every bounded set of real numbers has a maximal element. For example, consider the set of all real numbers greater than 0 and less than 2. Pick any number N in the set. N must be less than 2, because it is in the set. Pick another number M halfway between N and 2. M is still less than 2, so it is also in our set. M is greater than N, so N could not have be the maximal element of our set. Whatever N we might propose to be a maximal element, we can always construct M in this way so that M is bigger than N yet still in the set, still less than 2. So this is an example of a bounded set of real numbers with no maximal element.
Sets of times, just like sets of numbers, need not have maximal or minimal elements, even when bounded. Since the paradox of change depended on the existence of such maximal elements, their nonexistence resolves the paradox.
Real numbers turn out upon further study to be quite strange objects. As mathematics continues to develop, families of alternative systems with subtly different properties have been explored. For example, model theory opens the door to nonstandard analysis which introduces infinitesimal quantities. Which number system provides the correct treatment for time?
A pragmatic approach to this question is to look at the nature of measurement. To understand better how it is possible for X to be true at one time and then to be false at some later time, let us consider the construction of a measurement device that can tell us at what times X is true and at what times is it false. Whether we are to deal with runners and reptiles or with seeds and sprouts, the modern way to build a measurement device is to translate phenomena into voltages. So let us suppose that we can arrange suitable electrodes and amplifiers so we have a signal on a wire with positive voltage when X is true, otherwise X is false. We want to measure the time when X changes from true to false.
The fundamental problem here is one of converting a continuous quantity to a digital one. A measurement is recorded as a number, for example "1.95". After many measurements and an analysis of experimental procedures, an estimate of experimental error will be added to this measurement when it is reported, for example "+/- 0.01". But it will be enough if our measurement process can somehow generate the simple result "1.95". One approach would be to let some clock run as long as X is true, and turn it off when X becomes false. So the time when X became false can be reported by simply reading the clock after it stops. If the clock uses an analog display, then the experimenter must examine the clock hand position relative to the dial and decide which mark the hand lies closest to.
It is somewhat awkward to have a human decision intervene right at the crucial point where our time measurement is to be performed. This obscures things right where we are trying to make them clear; it seems to resolve the paradox with a mystery. To avoid this obscurity, let us use a digital clock instead. We can just record the digital clock reading directly onto a computer disk to be incorporated into the experimental report without any mysterious human decisions involved. Curiously, it turns out to be impossible to build any such device with complete reliability. Just as a human experimenter might have trouble deciding how to record the time when it falls right between two marks, any physical device will have a sticking point, where things will jam up if X happens to switch from true to false just as the digital clock is flipping digits. This is a classic problem, called "metastability", in the design of digital circuits. Actually the problem is far more widespread than just digital circuit design. Anytime a continuous set of possibilities has to be cut into discrete parts, there is always some bit of trouble.
Consider negotiating an intersection controlled by a traffic light. Most of the time things go smoothly. But every once in a while, the light turns yellow when one is at an awkward spot, not obviously so far along as to easily clear the intersection before the red, but not so distant either to allow for a gentle stop. Indecision arises, to go or to stop? For different folks this point of indecision will arise at different distances from the intersection. But between the go zone and the stop zone there is always difficult boundary. Similarly, when people pass each other moving in opposite directions, there is always the choice of passing on the right or the left. Or which person should pass through the door first?
It may seem peculiar to be using a facet of digital systems design as a means to illuminate the nature of change. But in fact digital systems such as computers were actually first envisioned as purely conceptual devices, to clarify issues in mathematics such as the nature of numbers and methods of reasoning. The engineering of computer systems provides a mirror for the general human effort to build a stable, reliable, predictable world. Often this mirror can show more explicitly and clearly the problems and paradoxes that arise but obscurely and mysteriously in the general effort.
Metastability is the pragmatic manifestation of the paradox of change. It is not possible to build a device that can with perfect reliability report the time at which some feature of the world changes. Rude and awkward suprises seem to be unavoidable!
The sort of description science strives for is not just a catalog of events but an explanation of those events. We want to understand why things happen the way they do. To achieve this understanding we start by observing regular patterns of appearance. For example, every year as the days get longer in the spring season, the temperatures rise and trees grow leaves. Noticing this regularity does not yet by itself yield an understanding of the causative relationship between these events. If we observe that event C always happens soon after event B, we cannot validly infer that event B causes event C. There may be some prior event A that causes both B and C, with no causal relation between B and C.
How can we investigate to determine what causal relations lie behind the patterns of correlated events we observe? Scientific experiments are a powerful procedure for investigating causal relations. To experimentally determine if event B causes event C, the key requirement is that we be able to freely generate event B. If event C occurs each time we generate B, but does not occur when we don't generate B, we can be confident that B indeed causes C. If instead we observe occurrences of C only after spontaneous occurrences of B but never after the occurrences of B that we freely generate, then we can be confident that C is not caused by B, but instead caused by some prior A that also causes B in a parallel chain.
Note the complementary relation between free will and causation revealed by examining the experimental method. Often free will and causation are held to be in conflict: if events arise due to causation from prior events, then how can human actors freely perform actions? But now we see that in fact causation is meaningless without free will; without free will, causation cannot be distinguished from correlation. And conversely, without causation free will would also be meaningless; without causation, free will could not engage the world, the chain of events trigger by free action would be abruptly terminated and action would be utterly ineffective.
Curiously the scientific description of the world does not include the free will of the scientific experimenter, even though that free will is an essential requirement for the generation of that description. It's a bit like the blind spot in the visual field caused by the connection of the optic nerve to the retina. The optic nerve is an essential requirement for the effective functioning of the retina, yet the retina is blind just at that point.
Experimental procedures can attempt to avoid relying on free will. There is indeed a danger that the occurrence or non-occurrence of some event A will influence the decision of the experimenter to generate event B or not. If A also in parallel causes C, then the experimenter will observe that C occurs just when B is generated and so conclude that B causes C. But this conclusion is fallacious, because the generation of B was not in fact free, but caused by A through a causal chain of events that include the experimenter's decision to generate B.
In order to avoid such errors, experimenters often rely on some sort of mechanical randomized process to govern the decision of whether to generate B or not in any particular repetition of the experiment. For example, a coin toss might determine when a particular patient is given a new test drug or a placebo. In order to prevent the experimenter's observations from being distorted by expectations driven by the outcome of this decision process, the experimenter can be kept ignorant of the outcome. This is the widely used "double blind" procedure.
While double blind procedures are doubtless effective at reducing the distortion of experimental results due to biases of the experimenters, the procedure still relies on an essential element of free will. The experimental procedure requires that a link be established between some random process such as a coin toss, and the generation or non-generation of some event in the experiment. One could interpret "heads" to mean "give the placebo", or alternative one could interpret "heads" to mean "give the test drug". For the experimental results to validly indicate whether casual relations exist or not, the choice between these interpretations must be freely made.
Thus we see that free will is an essential requirement for discovering the causal relations in the world. But the descriptions that are constructed as a result of these discoveries do not include free will. Free will is an inevitable blind spot in any scientific explanation of how the world works.
The everyday objects around us are assembled out of various other objects. For example an automobile is built out of a chassis, an engine, a body, etc. If we think carefully about this situation, we will run into a variety of puzzles and paradoxes. What is the value of reflecting on such difficulties?
Our habitual way of thinking about the world is to conceive of it as a collection of various objects, which relate to each other and to ourselves. We try to arrange the situation with ourselves relating in some stable way among the various objects. Somehow though problems are constantly arising, and when we are not somewhat desparately trying to patch things up to return to some manageable level of stability, we are worrying about where and when the next outbreak of unwelcome surprises will come and how can we be prepared to respond.
So it really does seem counterproductive to go looking for trouble. Life is difficult enough already without anyone trying to topple over nice cozy arrangements such as automobiles whose engines are so neatly bolted to their chassis. Is the object of such an exercise to prod us into yet another weekend repair chore, hunting down the aisles of hardware stores looking for yet stronger glue to secure our lives from these latest assaults? Let's just lay back and drink lemonade instead and forget the whole exercise.
The goals of Buddhist practise and of ordinary behavior are not different. Beings just want to be happy, and perform what seems to them the most effective actions to become and stay happy. Despite such universal intentions, the world seems quite filled with suffering. Despite everone's cultivation of happiness, unhappiness prevails. The Buddhist diagnosis of this situation is quite simple: the vast majority of beings are confused about what sorts of actions have what sorts of effects. The actions they perform, in order to secure happiness, actually generate unhappiness.
The Buddhist path is a training in methods that truly produce happy results. Part of this training is to cultivate an understanding of the ways that common confused approaches lead instead to suffering. One needs to understand what is confused about confusion. A classic instance of confused action is rigidly clinging to a conceptualization of the world as some particular arrangement of objects with various relationships to each other and oneself. If one can see that any such conceptualization is of only limited validity, that the more rigidly one clings to such fixed ideas the more pain results from the inevitable mismatches, then one may become more able to catch oneself as one's habits again drive one into such conceptual clinging, and gradually train oneself to develop a mental pliability that can freely take up and let go of conceptualizations, with the openness to allow the value and use of each to display themselves.
The paradoxes considered here are not new. Various versions appear in the classical philosophical traditions around the world. Any way of thinking has somehow to make peace with these paradoxes. Whatever solution is settled upon is inevitably unstable, but various defense mechanisms can be cultivated to prevent the logical problems from destabilizing the patterns of thinking that form one of the fundamental subsystems of any culture. Modern scientific culture has its instabilities and defense mechanisms like any other. By bringing these to light and recognizing them we may become more able to weigh their costs and benefits and choose among alternatives more wisely and compassionately.
So let's look at some object like an automobile. Perhaps this automobile is connected to a trailer. Does this combination of automobile and trailer form some new object, an automobile-plus-trailer? Of course this is just a game of semantics, of words and their meanings. But if it is just a game of semantics to ask, "Is that an automobile-plus-trailer," isn't is just as much a game to ask, "Is that an automobile?" Just like "automobile-plus-trailer" is just a made-up word one can use to refer to an arrangement of an automobile connected to a trailer, isn't "automobile" just a made-up word one can use to refer to an arrangment of a body mounted on a chassis with an engine bolted in and hooked to the wheels? Suppose you put an automobile in your garage, and then pull the engine out and set it alongside. Is there still an automobile in the garage? Is the engine still part of the automobile or are the automobile and the engine now separate objects? Suppose you mount the engine in some other chassis-plus-body and drive that new combination away. Is the chassis-plus-body still in the garage an automobile? Does is still include the engine that was driven away? Suppose we mount a new replacement engine in the chassis-plus-body in the garage. Is there now an automobile in the garage, and is this new engine a part of it? Is this automobile the same automobile that we started with in the garage?
In case this all seems totally absurd, you might consider the problems that arise with car theives, chop shops, and serial numbers. The black market thrives on ambiguity and instability!
Here is another puzzle. Suppose we define a place-setting to be a knife, a fork, and a spoon. Suppose we have a drawer containing four knives, four forks, and four spoons. How many place-settings are in the drawer? The easy answer is four, but wouldn't it be truer to say 64? Label the knives K1, K2, K3, and K4, the forks F1, F2, etc. Wouldn't it be accurate to say that place-setting K1+F1+S1 is a different place-setting than K1+F1+S2?
The more one considers how it happens that some arrangements of smaller objects somehow form a larger composite object whereas different arrangements form different larger objects or no larger objects at all, the more one tries to understand just how those larger objects come into existence or pass out of existence, the more one is driven to the conclusion that these larger composite objects are not really existing things that suddenly spring into being or vanish as the smaller objects are rearranged. Instead it starts to get clearer that we think about and talk about these larger objects as a sort of shorthand summary of lots of details concerning the smaller objects and their arrangement, details that don't matter much anyway. So if someone asks, "Is there an automobile in your garage?" the most accurate reply might be something like, "There is an arrangement of pistons and shock absorbers and metal panels and lots of other things, arranged in such a way that you can climb in and drive it around, and it strongly resembles in shape and substance other arrangements which people generally call 'automobile', so using that commonplace shorthand way of speaking, yes, there is an automobile in my garage." Of course such accuracy is mostly a waste of time.
But such accuracy is not entirely a waste of time. If everyone understands what is behind a statement like, "Yes, there is an automobile in my garage," then perhaps no one will be upset when the situation is actually a little bit over into the grey area, so perhaps the automobile is not is the best repair, perhaps some not quite essential component is missing, so when one person's expectations are disappointed there is mutual understanding that words can never capture reality so such disappointment is not entirely avoidable and need not be blamed on anyone, so anger and a cycle of retribution need not be triggered.
If large composite objects like automobiles "exist" merely as a conventional shorthand way to summarize in a rough way some arrangement of smaller objects, what about those smaller objects? Do they also exist in such a merely conventional fashion? When your sunglasses fall out of your pocket as you cross the street and somebody's Ford Expedition smashes them into pieces, maybe that's just a shorthand way of saying 6000 pounds of steel, but such a real effect surely has some similarly real cause!
The modern scientific answer to this puzzle is reductionism: while automobiles and engines and pistons are just conventional names to summarize arrangments of smaller objects, at some point there is an end to this process of examining objects to discover how they are composed of smaller objects. A piston is composed of a huge number of atoms, and the atoms themelves can be broken down further into elementary particles such as electrons. An electron is not composed of smaller particles, it just exists all by itself as just what it is, an electron. The real true description of the world is that it is some evolving arrangement of elementary particles. Of course this arrangement involves a mind-boggling mass of details, so inevitably we have to talk about it with conventional shorthand terms, but those terms don't refer to actually existing objects, merely to loosely defined arrangements of elementary particles. This is the reductionist view of modern science.
This reductionist view actually started to fall apart just as it appear to finally have matured. Of Albert Einstein's famous three papers of 1905, the paper on Brownian motion established the actual existence of atoms, while the paper on the photoelectric effect gave a powerful boost to the nascent quantum mechanics that undermined the foundations of that existence. But the reductionist view runs into problems even before we run into quantum mechanics.
Suppose the classical mechanical reductionist view were somehow correct. Suppose we somehow managed to construct a perfect description of the world. This description, according to the classical reductionist view, would consist of a list of particles and their coordinates. Perhaps the description would even have the complete history of each particle, the sequence of values of the coordinates as they evolved and will evolve over time. This description being quite vast, we store it in a sophisticated high-powered computer database. But there are some tough design problems in the way of constructing this database. The database will just contain a set of records, something like
particle identification number
time x location y location z location
151900166 874999.30567 2803486.55483 -73384.59446 1036438658.22953
151900167 874999.30567 -1304857504.583299 205333.6895 142726658304.789433
The immediate problem is: what measurement units and frame of reference should be used in the perfect description? If I wanted to see where that Ford Expedition drove off to, I could just find the coordinate for where your sunglasses where when they got smashed, find what particle was just above that point a few inches, then jump ahead a couple of hours and look up where that particle is now. But how can I find the coordinate where your sunglasses got smashed? If I knew the label for one of the particles of your sunglasses, maybe I could look up its location when they got smashed. Of course, that particle has a very long history, perhaps billions of years, so there is still the problem of knowing what time they got smashed.
So there is the first problem with the reductionist view of the world. A description that consisted merely of particles and coordinates would be quite useless. The only reality we know is the conventional reality, including especially our own self. If one searched our perfect reductionist database for any configuration of particles fitting the description of "Ford Expedition smashing sunglasses", there might be hundreds of matches. Some of these matches might even be on different planets, on different galaxies, millions of years in the future. I want to know about the events that are related to me, not to some similar arrangement of particles very distant. To be useful, the database will have to somehow include the relationship of the particles or coordinates to the user's experience in conventional terms. Thus a perfect description must include conventional terms. These conventional terms are essential to the description. The reductionist view of the world is incomplete in an essential way.
The reductionist view proposes the ultimate absolute existence of elementary particles and the nonexistence of composite objects. We have seen that composite objects are essentially required in any adequate description of the world, so one plank in the reductionist platform is flawed. The classical Mahayana Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna had already pointed out the flaw in the other plank, the existence of elementary particles. The flowering of quantum mechanics in this century has revealed much more complex phenomena underlying the appearance of elementary particles. Nagarjuna simply pointed out that if such particles existed they would have to have occupy some non-zero extent of space if things weren't to just collapse in on itself, and any such non-zero extent is necessarily composite, being divisible into smaller non-zero extents. With quantum mechanics, things not collapsing on themselves is explained by Fermi-Dirac particle interchange anti-symmetry. But such anti-symmetry undermines the existence of elementary particles every bit as much as a non-zero extent would have. What really exists from a quantum theory perspective is something like a collection of elementary particle fields. The fields are what exist, the particles are just the appearance of the field.
But actually things are quite a bit thicker that this. The various particle fields are interacting. The particles we observe are actually bundles of interacting particles. If we try to peel apart these bundles, we find that the peeling apart process never ends. This rude discovery was called the ultraviolet catastrophe. Renormalization group theory was invented by Feynman, Schwinger, and Tomonaga to compute appearances despite the nonexistence of the bare particles.
So quantum mechanics has really given up on the existence of elementary particles. The particles we observe can be analysed as excitations of coupled fields, but those fields only exist as those appearances. The various modes of excitations of these fields change depending on the situation. The elementary particles that exist inside crystals are quite different from those that exist in a vaccuum. For example, sound waves do not exist in a vaccuum, but do exist in crystals. Sound waves are excitations of the crystals, and these excitations are quantized, which is to say appear as collections of elementary particles, known as phonons. Solid state physicists measure properties of phonons and use them to predict the behavior of crystals. Thus these particles are quite real in the sense of having clearly observable impact on human experience. Yet they exist only in the context of a cystal, not in a vaccuum.
Even more curiously, phonons and electrons interact. Thus, in a crystal, any excitation is really a combination of phonon field and electron field in coupled oscillation. Generally the phonon or the electron aspect dominates, so the excitation can be labelled "phonon" or "electron". But at some frequencies there is a sort of mutual resonance, where the phonon and electron field are working tightly together. In this case the excitation is called an "exciton". As the frequency shifts, the modes of excitation of the fields that compose the crystal shift smoothly from being phonon dominated to a balance and then to electron dominated. The particles that appear vary smoothly from phonons through excitons to electrons.
I certainly don't mean to hold up any particular physics theory as being correct or incorrect. I bring up the complexities of quantum mechanics merely to point out that, just as the reductionist view understates the existence of composite objects, it also overstates the existence of elementary particles. The conventional view, that objects like automobiles just simply exist as they appear, very quickly runs into trouble as their behavior reveals their composite nature. But as we try to pin down just what objects really do exist, we find the project to be quite difficult. The closer we look, the more complex the underlying phenomena appear.
Varieties of Experience
There is a sense in which ordinary everyday reality is like a dream or an illusion. The world discovered by science is also like a dream or an illusion. At first glance these statements seem absurd. There is a world of difference between dreaming that one falls off a tall building and actually falling off a tall building! But the claim is that ordinary experience is like a dream, not that it actually is a dream.
Our various ordinary experiences are all similar in that they consist of various objects appearing to us. They are further similar in that if we investigate the nature of these objects with sufficient diligence, we will realize that the objects do not exist as solid entities, but actually arise from the coming together of various causes. They are further similar in that the objects that appear will withstand some limited modes of investigation. It is only when we look carefully enough that we will see the limitations.
It's like the Wizard of Oz. At first the great face and voice very definitely appeared, created fear, and inspired obedience. Later, upon further investigation, it became clear that the face and voice were merely appearing as the result of various circus tricks and there was no substance to the appearance. Ordinary experience, scientific experience, and dream experience are all similar in that they consist of various objects appearing that will withstand some investigation but not all investigation. These various types of experience differ in just what modes of investigation they can withstand and what modes reveal their limitations. That's why what we experience is called relative or conventional. In various situations we describe the world relative to some conventional modes of investigation. Oftentimes confusion arises when in a discussion two people are working with different conventions.
Experience has far more varieties than just the three of ordinary, scientific, and dream. These three themselves are just very coarse groupings. Consider rainbows. Do rainbows really exist? In some ways yes, in some ways no. Unlike dreams, many people can see the same rainbow at the same time. You can even take a photograph of a rainbow. One doesn't wake up from seeing a rainbow to the sound of the alarm clock buzzing, unless of course it was a dream rainbow! But if you try to grab a rainbow, you can never find anything to hold on to. Rainbows actually have no definite location; they have a direction, but no distance.
Lightning is another classical object of experience whose mode of existence can be contemplated. What is amazing about lightning is the contrast between the intense presence of its existence with its miniscule duration. By the time one can even formulate the idea of the existence of the flash of lightning, the lightning is already gone.
Consider the phenomenon of seeing stars when one is struck in the head. The stars most certainly do appear. Yet no one else in the room can see them, at least not right then. But others will likely have seen similar stars at other times, when they themselves had been struck in the head. Here is a curious variation on the theme of intersubjective experience!
"Did you watch the president give his speech last night?" If I watched a flickering image of the president projected on a phosphor screen by an scanning electron beam, I will still likely answer, "Yes!" What I saw and heard was not the actual president, but merely an illusion projected by electronic circuitry. Many other people saw the same or similar images. The next day I can talk with my coworkers about the phenomena that appeared, and we will all have had very similar experiences. Yet if I shout out a question or an objection or try to tweak the president's nose, I will certainly discover that there is no person actually present.
Some experiences we just stumble upon, other experiences we have to work to achieve. To watch TV, we might have to go out and buy a TV and then plug it in and turn in on and find a channel that works. Or maybe we have to get a cable hookup activated.
I am always amazed to reflect that of the three famous papers Einstein published in 1905, it was the paper on Brownian motion that won him the Nobel prize. (The other papers were on the photoelectric effect and on special relativity.) Still in 1905 it was controversial as to whether or not atoms and molecules actually existed or were just a convenient fiction for explaining the regularities of chemical combinations. Einstein used Brownian motion to measure the size of molecules, thus settling the controversy in favor of their actual existence. Nowadays we have scanning tunneling electron microscopes that can generate clear images of arrangements of individual atoms! We generally take the existence of atoms for granted, but it took the work of many genius scientists to build up the equipment required to make atoms clearly appear as existing objects. Geiger and Rutherford exposed the internal structure of the atom, revealing electrons and nuclei and the vast empty spaces that constitute atoms. The history of microphysics in the twentieth century is a continuing sequence of ever new modes of investigation revealing the limited nature of the existence of one class of objects by making apparent how those objects are built up from arrangements and interactions of yet finer objects.
Each scientific discipline has its own conventional methods of investigation and its own objects that appear through the application of those methods. What appears for a zoologist to be a horse looks for a chemist to be a system of interlocked chemical reaction processes and for a physicist to be a configuration of particles coursing along trajectories determined by fundemental force field equations. An economist might see an investment with certain anticipated risk and return!
If we investigate a phenomenon closely enough, then we will discover that the objects that appeared are really just limited rough approximations to the real facts, facts that incorporate a whole range of deeper phenomena that came into focus as the investigation unfolded and that together explained how the phenomenon came into appearance. Yet at the same time that we can understand and reflect upon the limited nature of the existence of whatever objects might appear to us, still when phenomena appear, they do truly appear. In one sense a rainbow does not really exist but is merely an appearance generated by light and mist. In another sense, a rainbow most certainly exists as a circular pattern of brightly colored stripes. All phenomena have this twofold nature. Ultimately one can always investigate deeply enough to reveal what is behind an appearance and the limitations of that appearance. But apart from those investigations and within those limitations, phenomena do arise and appear.
Breaking and Fixing
We have examined a variety of ways to describe the world and discussed the problems that prevent a precise fit between world and description. Given the boundless ingenuity and passion of humanity, one can reasonably anticipate that every problem that arises will eventually be repaired. The difficulty seems to be that every repair introduces additional complexity and abstraction into the description, introducing new and even more difficult problems. It's like the mythological hydra, where seven new heads grow in place of every head one chops off. Must new problems always arise, or might there be an end to the process, at which point a perfect description will have been reached?
It appears impossible, even absurd, to construct a proof that problems must always arise for any description. Any such proof would rely on some description for its terms, axioms, and inferences. The ultimate validity of the proof would depend on the ultimate validity of the underlying description. But the proposition to be proved is that no such ultimately valid description is possible! This is remarkably close to Goedel's proposition, which he constructed to demonstrate that there are true propositions of arithmetic that cannot be proved. To the extent that any correct description of the world must inevitably incorporate arithmetic, and to the extent that Goedel's incompleteness theorem indicates an inevitable flaw in any theory of arithmetic, we can construct an argument that any description of the world can fit only imprecisely. But the dynamics of problems and patches continues in the contemporary debates on the philosophy of mathematics and competing interpretations of Goedel's theorem. It is enough for our purposes to note that in the realm of mathematics, the debates continue: the descriptions proposed in the last round had their problems discovered; it seems overly optimistic to suppose that the current round of patches will finally resolve all problems.
This dynamic structure of problems and patches seems to be fundamental. One party insists that truth exists and advocates law and order to respect that truth. The other party points out the contrived nature of the proposed law and order and proposes free and creative improvisation in its place. These are the extreme positions of eternalism and nihilism, of objectivism and relativism. The objectivist holds that when you push an investigation far enough, in the end you get down to solid fixed reality, the ultimate cold hard facts of the matter. The relativist holds that when you push an investigation far enough, in the end you get to a set of arbitrary free choices which could just as well have been chosen otherwise.
Buddhism resolves the dispute with a Middle Way. No matter how far you push an investigation, you can always push it further. At each stage of investigation one is confronted with some set of phenomena that are discovered to underlie more superficial appearances. But these phenomena themselves can be investigated in turn, uncovering yet deeper structures, patterns, and interconnections.
Aristotle traced the causal chain back to a starting point, back to the prime mover. The Christian tradition mapped the prime mover onto God. Buddhism is atheistic, in contrast. There is no prime mover. The causal chain can be traced back ever more deeply in beginningless time.
This is the deep truth of Buddhism, emptiness and interdependence as two ways to say the same thing. Phenomena are never ultimate, neither in the eternalist objectivist version of fixed absolute forms, nor in the nihilist relativist version of freely chosen forms. Whatever phenomena arise, those phenomena are always subject to further investigation which would reveal those phenomena to be emergent patterns dependent on a network of relationships with various other supporting or underlying phenomena. This is the endless dynamic of the problems and patches of descriptions. A description records uninvestigated arising phenomena. Further investigation reveals problems that inevitably plague any such description. Patches fix the problems by rewriting the description in terms of deeper, underlying phenomena.
The Seventeenth Century founders of the modern scientific tradition were deeply religious Christian thinkers. They viewed their study of nature as a reading of a second Bible revealed by God, the Book of Nature. Their faith in the existence of an ultimately valid description was a part of their faith in God. Modern science, to the extent that it retains this faith in ultimately valid description, is thus a Christian science, or at least adheres to the family of the monotheistic Religions of the Book, of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Given such a religious foundation for science, the possibility of an alternative science, a science with a different metaphysical foundation, becomes more clear.
Methods and Results
The blossoming of science in the 1600's was rooted in the reawakening of a skeptical outlook in the 1500's with Agrippa, Rabelais, and Montaigne, leading to Descartes. This philosophical questioning was mirrored in the social, religious, and political instabilities of the time. This skeptical outlook was not new - Pyrrho, Aristotle's nephew, had promulgated similar views, inspired by his meetings with thinkers in India during his travels with Alexander's armies. One could even consider science to be a product of Buddhist influence in Europe!
The heart of skepticism, which is also cental to Buddhist philosophy, is that things are not what they seem. We build our lives up based on our beliefs, what we take to be true. We are often then confronted with unpleasant surprises. What we took to be true turns out to be false. Our world collapses when the foundations we have relied upon reveal their instability.
Uncertainty in our convictions can also arise when we discover that other people have different beliefs than we do. Before we discover that our own beliefs are unreliable, we tend to quickly conclude that other people's conflicting beliefs must simply be wrong. It often seems justified to apply any means necessary to eliminate such error so truth may prevail. Heretics are burned, religious wars mounted.
With sufficient maturity a more skeptical attitude may develop. One learns through experience that one's own beliefs are not reliable, that just because one believes a thing does not imply the truth of that belief. Even if one has tested a belief, further experience may shake that belief, may reveal some deeper truth, may awaken one to one's illusions. When one confronts a conflicting belief, one realizes that one's own belief could actually be the one in error. Instead of just assuming that one's own beliefs must be the true ones, instead one initiates a process of investigation, gathering and weighing evidence, engaging in debate and negotiation. One suspends commitment to one's own beliefs at least temporarily, attempting to judge impartially between conflicting beliefs based on the facts rather than the vagaries of historically entrenched opinion.
With such an approach one has shifted the ground of one's faith from a particular set of beliefs to a method of deciding among beliefs. The scientific method is just this, a commitment to deciding belief though a process of gathering evidence and weighing it through public discourse. As science developed in European culture, so did parallel notions of deciding political issues by democratic processes and economic issues by market processes. This commitment to investigate beliefs we can call "first-order skepticism". The facts about the way the world works, or the value of a commodity, or the social behavior should be regulated, are to be decided by processes of negotiation and debate rather than by any fixed rule eternally etched in the stone of traditional authority.
To question the results of such processes of public negotiation and debate, to propose an alternative science, might seem like a proposal to return to some such fixed authority. Indeed such authoritarian alternatives have not only been proposed but enacted in fundamentalist and totalitarian regimes where debate and negotiation are ruthlessly suppressed.
But in fact there are many possible methods of gathering and weighing evidence, many possible decision procedures. To consider alternatives to one method is not to reject all methods but to start opening up to this space of possibility. The traditional forms of debate and negotiation are not the only forms. Alternative forms can be considered. The advantages and disadvantages of the various forms can be investigated. We can learn to apply more effective methods to decide between conflicting beliefs.
This questioning of method we can call "second-order skepticism". With first-order skepticism we realized the possible truth of alternative beliefs. With second-order skepticism we realize the potential value of alternative methods of investigation, of gathering and weighing evidence, of debate and negotiation. The traditional methods may not lead to the best decisions. We recognize the need to investigate the methods themselves.
This investigation of alternative methods is already bearing fruit in politics and economics. The superiority in some political situations of various voting methods such as approval voting have been demonstrated. Various forms of bidding have been explored and their improved efficiency demonstrated in some market situations. But how to investigate methods of investigation? Doesn't the circularity, the paradoxicality of such a project doom it, render it fruitless or impossible or meaningless? This obstacle seems to be rooted in Cartesian dualism, the adherence to a clean division between the knowing subject and the known object. From such a dualistic perspective, it cannot be impossible for the process of knowing to itself be an object of knowing. Second-order skepticism lets go of this dualism. However we go about investigating methods of investigation, the way we go about it may become itself an object of investigation. Here again we may call on our faith in Buddhism to give us courage to devote ourselves to compassionate action within a vast space without fixed reference points. It is the clinging to beliefs and institutions as if they were eternal and absolute, the refusal to recognize their conventionality, the refusal to investigate their interdependence, that creates suffering.
Chaos and Friction in Theory Evolution
Our theories about the world are a part of the world. The dynamic evolution of the world includes the dynamic evolution of our theories about the world. The "standard modern" picture of the pattern of the evolution of theories is that, at least once the world-system has crossed over into the scientific attractor basin, that theories gradually and steadily approach some fixed point. This fixed point can serve as an effective notion of truth. Perhaps my main theme in this essay is that this picture of the dynamic evolution of theories is an inadequate picture. As an analogy, in the past the standard model for thermodynamic systems was an isolated system gradually approaching equilibrium. Since at least the 1960's, scientists have been exploring the behavior of open systems and systems far from equilibrium. It looks now like the isolated system gradually approaching equilibrium is very much a special case.
What is the actual pattern of the dynamic evolution of scientific theories? The question is not exactly historical. It is not a matter of the path that science actually takes, but of all the various paths it might take. If in fact all paths eventually settle within some small neighborhood of a single fixed point, then this fixed point could well serve as truth. But if the various possible trajectories of theory evolution actually wander into very diverse regions, then the question of truth gets more complicated. Perhaps one trajectory indeed settles for a very long time in one neighborhood, and a different trajectory also settles in a neighborhood, but the two neighborhoods are very different. The modern theories of chaotic dynamics have charted out an amazing menagerie of patterns of trajectories.
What I propose is that the actual dynamics of theory evolution is chaotic. Proving this to be true may be very difficult, impossible, or paradoxical. Wouldn't any purported proof need to hold itself up as some sort of universal fixed point in a dynamic space of theories about theories, which as part of the actual evolution of the entire world is coupled into the dynamics of the first order theory evolution and therefore subject to the chaos that it intends merely to be about rather than itself subjected to?
Here we have two competing theories. The standard modern philosophy of science holds that the dynamic system of theory evolution is non-chaotic, that essentially the entire space of theories constitutes one big basin of attraction with a simple fixed point. The alternative proposed here (and by many others) is that the dynamic system of theory evolution is chaotic, with the full panorama of attractor types etc. How can we decide which of these theories is better?
In my discussions on this subject, one friend proposed that since the standard modern philosophy of science is the established dominant view, the burden of proof is on the newcomer chaotic theory. It occurs to me that this argument puts a very nice wrinkle into the problem. This wrinkle relies on a feature of general system dynamics. Static friction leads to chaos! When a system wants to stay where it is and resists movement, that tendency leads to multiple basins of attraction. This observation doesn't prove that theory evolution is indeed chaotic, but it does encourage an examination of the issue based on the merits of the different positions rather than the history of the power of their various advocates. Arguing for the standard view on the basis of its standardness undermines that very view itself!
A Middle Way for Science
The alternative science I am proposing is not a replacement of the current scientific description of the world with some new description. Scientists are constantly proposing new alternative descriptions, weighing and debating the merits of the various competing proposals, inventing and performing experiments to gather evidence to help tilt the balance. That's what science is about.
I am proposing a new understanding of what science is, which should lead to a new way of doing science. Buddhism has cultivated the seed of the basic truth of emptiness and interdependence, and harvested a rich tradition of 2500 years of international culture. How can the wisdom of Buddhism transform science?
There is not likely to be an absolute universal ultimate answer at this level either, but rather an ongoing process of reflective practise. Some starting principles could be:
" How we do science matters. There is no inevitable progress to some unique final result. Every description has limitations, distortions, and blind spots. These form a sort of hidden historical record of the unresolved conflicts accumulated in the process of constructing the description.
" The value of a scientific description is in its ability to help beings become free from suffering and acheive their highest potential.
" Scientific descriptions are always embedded in contexts of people, equipment, materials, etc.
" Science like any human activity has a mythological narrative dimension. For example, a scientist might consciously or unconsciouly imagine himself or herself as a knight crusader in shining armor fighting valiantly to protect truth from the onslaught of the heretics. Acknowledging and working with this mythological dimension may be a wiser way to manage its powerful energies than trying to suppress and deny it.
" The mythological narrative of science encompasses a vision of humanity and its place in the universe, not just the institutions of science itself. Science fiction was born together with science, in works such as Francis Bacon's New Atlantis. The direction of evolution of science and technology seem inevitable largely because of the lack of consciousness and acknowledgement of this mythological narrative.
Acting and Accepting
In conceptualizing our experience we generally classify things in terms of polar opposites, such as hot versus cold, light versus dark, good versus bad, etc. Often we line up these opposites in rows under the two master column headings of good and bad, perhaps something like:
As we mature and reflect on our broadening experience, we may begin to question how we have lined up one or more of these opposites. Perhaps our taste changes, and instead of savoring sweet desserts, we start to search out the hottest chilis and curries. Changing food preferences rarely represent profound life changes - though perhaps if our perspective on thick juicy steaks changes it might seem relatively profound. A more significant pair of opposites for living life is the choice between accepting things as they are versus acting to change them. We might grow up holding one approach to be superior, then perhaps in mid-life re-evaluate the options and decide that the other alternative is actually superior, and so we work to change our habitual approach.
With more experience and reflection, our attitude about pairs of opposites can continue to evolve. We can start to see that perhaps neither extreme is optimal, that in fact some third middle way is the best. We might come to realize that no fixed approach will always be the best, rather we must examine each situation and apply the approach that is appropriate to the particular circumstances. When we reach this stage with the poles of acting and accepting, we understand Reinhold Niebuhr's famous prayer for serenity, courage, and wisdom.
Eventually, by looking carefully at the nature of opposites, we might realize that each pole actually incorporates its opposite, one way or another, as an essential component. Effective action is only possible when we accept the way the world is so that we can work with it. Airplanes free us from the speed limits imposed by older modes of transportation, and in that sense represent a refusal to accept such limitation. On the other hand, airplanes only became possible when the Wright brothers built a wind tunnel to study aerodynamics and understand how the shape of its wings affect the behavior of an airplane. Without accepting the laws of aerodynamics, airplanes would be impossible. Similarly, acceptance is not possible without action. For example, genuine acceptance of new neighbors into a community might require some action, such as offering a concrete token of welcome.
The cartoon images of traditional Buddhism and modern Science seem to line up with the polar opposites of accepting and acting. Modern European-American culture has certainly used science and technology to take action on grand scales in many arenas. My own life is thoroughly enveloped in this culture, so I don't really have enough first hand experience on which to base any characterization of traditional Buddhist culture. Certainly the grand temples of Buddhist Asia give evidence of significant activity. But still, in traditional cultures around the world, including pre-modern Europe, it seems there is a greater acceptance of circumstance. The modern notion of progress seems to generate a boundless optimism which can support and motivate grand activity, while the traditional notion of degeneration from an earlier golden age seems to lead to a more pessimistic and less active approach.
Thinking about this further, maybe the situation is a bit more complex. Presented with some unpleasant circumstance, a Buddhist might reflect that it is really a bit over-optimistic to think that any amount of activity could actually eliminate unpleasant circumstances from the world. But this doesn't mean that there is nothing to be done. Instead of avoiding the pain of stepping on thorns and pebbles by paving the entire planet with a smooth and soft surface, one can instead put on shoes. The space of activity can be internal instead of external. Changing one's habitual patterns of thought and emotion is a project requiring as much persistence and effort as any material engineering project. In contrast, the modern way is not to question one's desires. The mark of privilege is indulging one's impulses. We seem to have arrived at a more complex relationship among these polarities:
act accept accept act
Perhaps we can look yet deeper at the contrast between traditional Buddhism and modern Science. Just as sustained reflection on the natures of acting and accepting led to the realization that each pole relies on its opposite, similarly we might look to see whether or how the traditional Buddhist approach and the modern Scientific approach are mutually interdependent.
How does a traditional Buddhist approach rely on a modern Scientific approach? The essence of Buddhism is benefitting others. The only way to accomplish this benefit is by a penetrating understanding of the nature of reality, together with precise and courageous performance of the actions required. This is science and technology at its best.
How does a modern Scientific approach rely on a traditional Buddhist approach? The essence of Science is communal inquiry. The only way to accomplish this is to insure that all members of the broadest community have the maximum opportunity to extend the depth and range of their insights and to freely share and help each other grow. This is Buddhism at its best!
I recently read Thom Hartmann's The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight: Waking Up To Personal and Global Transformation (Three Rivers, 1999). It's pretty thorough on the ecological scare tactics front! A related subject I've been researching a bit lately is solar power. A recent article in Science talked about generating all the power for the US from 10,000 square miles of solar collectors in Nevada. Not really a serious proposal, but it points out a possibility. I found another report on-line, a KPMG study done for Greenpeace that discussed large scale solar electric power. Right now electricity from solar panels runs about 10x the cost from the power company, depending no doubt on where you are. I wonder how the numbers would work out in say San Diego these days?! The biggest problem seems to be that the manufacturing capacity isn't there. Everything these days runs on economies of scale. Well maybe not everything, I guess mini-mills are big in steel these days. But anyway, the KPMG report talks about a chicken-and-egg problem, that nobody will build a big enough factory to get the unit cost down until the demand is there, but the demand won't be there until the cost comes down.
It's a very interesting question: if some social structure or pattern of behavior A is more optimal in some sense than pattern B, will society somehow inevitably evolve into pattern A before too long, before pattern A becomes non-optimal because of changes in circumstances? The Whig history approach is just to say, whatever pattern we have must be optimal just because we have it, its existence is proof of its optimality, and who anyway can justify any sort of lofty authority to make any other judgements of optimality anyway? Well that isn't my approach at all, I think we each of us have the fundamental responsibility as human beings to take responsibility and make judgements and act as wisely as possible to improve things one way or another. I view the general pattern of human society to be miserably sub-optimal and given all the various feedback loops that amplify stupidity and desparation, I don't see any very big opportunities for improvement! But the space of possibilities includes wonderful and delightful feedback loops of bliss and wisdom, and maybe all we need is a small opportunity after all with a few of the right nudges in the right place! Anything is possible!
I don't really see how we can get solar power in place before oil starts to collapse. But there's lots of coal, so the real race is with global warming. Then there's nuclear. It seems like we'll poison ourselves one way or another before we run out of raw materials. The chain of cause and effect is so long, how can people become aware of the link between their behavior and the consequences they experience, or that their grandchildren will experience?
For me the weakest part of Hartmann's book is the vision. He seems stuck proposing a return to tribal life, pre-civilization. I have a different vision. I don't mind seeing the issue on the table coming out of the tribal - civilization transition. A real strength of Hartmann's book is that he shows how big civilized empires emerged out of tribal life at multiple times in multiple places. At one point he does though paint a picture of some evil being who poisons things, as if civilization doesn't emerge as much as get introduced from some sort of outside influence. This I view as a deeply flawed vision. Hartmann likes to contrast sustainable tribal culture with unsustainable civilized culture, cataloging the many collapses of the many great civilizations that have risen and fallen over the millenia. But this isn't quite right. Tribal culture is not sustainable either! The collapse of civilized culture is generally due to some resource limit or plague. Tribal culture reveals its instability when somehow it evolves into civilization!
So my grand vision is of some kind of trans-civilization, some kind of culture that goes past civilization. This echoes all the post-modern blather, but trumps it. Forget the puny little medieval - modern transition, let's go deeper, to the tribal - civilized transition! One can look at the history of civilization as one of bigger and bigger empires forming and collapsing. Finally now we are entering into the grandest civilization yet, the global city. No more frontier! And at the same time, we're on the cusp of the grandest collapse yet. Of course, anybody's guess how all this plays out. But if we cultivate a vision of the most positive possibilities, perhaps the right little incalculable nudges will somehow carry us through the narrowest window of opportunity.
My notion of trans-civilization is built on Ken Wilber's concept of the pre-trans fallacy. He's talking about ego, how enlightenment (in the yogic sense) is not any sort of infantile regression to a pre-egoic state, but a further evolution to a trans-egoic state, one that must incorporate elements of ego as it becomes free of the limitations of ego. Similarly, a trans-civilized culture will have to incorporate elements of civilization but at the same time recovering some elements of tribal life, just as the enlightened master recovers some of the innocence and spontaneity of a child.
Resources for Philosophy
John D. Caputo
" Deconstruction in a Nutshell: A Conversation with Jacques Derrida, Fordham 1997
This is probably the only book where I've managed to read more than a page of Derrida's writing. The first 24 pages are the transcript of a Q&A with Derrida. The rest is a commentary by Caputo. It sure does seem like there is some resonance here with Buddhism, which other have also noted. Anyway, try the following mapping:
" khora = emptiness
" differance = interdependence
" Messiah = Buddha nature
Perhaps a significant difference with Buddhism is that the Messiah is always projected into the future, whereas Buddha nature is always already present though obscure.
" Beyond Orientalism: Essays on Cross-Cultural Encounter, (SUNY 1996)
from p. 195:
The conception of democratic staging as an empty place resonates deeply with the Buddhist notion of sunyata (as outlined above). As in the case of Buddhism, democratic emptiness does not denote nihilism or sheer negativity but rather a kind of inner lining or hidden foil allowing democratic politics to emerge in its suchness. If sunyata is seen as a core ingredient of Buddhism (at least in its Mahayana version), then contemporary politics offers the spectacle of a curious East-West encounter: just at the time when Western-style democracy is experiencing a worldwide affirmation allowing us to speak of a process of global democratization, democratic politics discovers in itself a non-actuality or hidden hollow, a hollow whose understanding can be greatly assisted by the rich Buddhist legacy of sunyata.
" The Quest for Certainty: A Study of the Relation of Knowledge and Action (Putnam 1929)
from pp. 104-105
Only when the older theory of knowledge and epistemology is retained, is science thought to inform us that nature in its true reality is but an interplay of masses in motion, without sound, color, or any quality of enjoyment and use. What science actually does is to show that any natural object we please may be treated in terms of relations upon which its occurence depends, or as an event, and that by so treating it we are enabled to get behind, as it were, the immediate qualities the object of direct experience presents, and to regulate their happening, instead of having to wait for conditions beyond our control to bring it about. Reduction of experienced objects to the form of relations, which are neutral as respects qualitative traits, is a prerequisite of ability to regulate the course of change, so that it may terminate in the occurence of an object having desired qualities.
from p. 215:
Intelligence within nature means liberation and expansion, as reason outside nature means fixation and restriction.
" Orientalism and Religion: Postcolonial Theory, India and 'The Mystic East' (Routledge 1999)
from p. 28:
It has become commonplace in the modern era to consider mystics, their writings and the phenomenon of mysticism in general as being in some sense antithetical to rationality. Specifically the characterization of Indian religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism as mystical has also tended to support the exclusion of Hindus and Buddhists from the realm of rationality.
David Michael Levin
" The Body's Recollection of Being: Phenomenolgical Psychology and the Deconstruction of Nihilism, (Routledge Kegan Paul 1985)
from p. 230:
Our traditional way of teaching morality is, I think, an inherently mechanizing, technologically willfull way: it attempts to teach a morality of autonomy, but does so by implicitly heteronomous means, i.e., by imposing precepts and principles not derived from the child's own body of morally perceptive feeling, and by addressing moral education to the child's tool-like nature, rather than to a creative reserve of sensibility which is not reducible to its being as an instrument of moral culture, and which may suffer very seriously from the instrumental strategy. When precepts are imposed and not derived, it is not only that we betray our own principles by treating the child as a tool, but that, since we are giving him no understanding of moral evaluation as a process of articulating a body of implicitly moral feeling, we are actually encouraging and rewarding a tool-like nature, rigid, constant, reliable, fixed, docile, and essectially reactive, rather than thoughtful and responsive. This educational method is therefore implicitly technological, and tends to reproduce itself in a character which is easily manipulated, and which knows by example only those kinds of relationship that involve the manipulation of others. We desparately need a method of moral education which will avoid the chains of calculative ratiocination and subvert the technological reduction of human nature and comportment.
" The Listening Self: Personal Growth, Social Change and the Closure of Metaphysics
" The Opening of Vision: Nihilism and the Postmodern Situation
" Lack and Transcendence: The Problem of Death and Life in Psy
" Nonduality: A Study in Comparative Philosophy
" Derrida on the Mend, (1984 Purdue)
from pp. 87-88:
At the very outset of this discussion, however, I wish to dispel two vitiating suspicions - one suspicion which is rooted in a covert bigotry but is nonetheless commonplace among Western intellectuals who are not Orientalists,... The first suspicion would have it that the principles of Buddhist throught in general are too 'escapist', too 'other worldly' in the perjerotive sense of the term, too preposterously removed from the real, to be worthy of attention, and consequently, that any comparison of Derrida and Nagarjuna can only result in miscarriage; or, in a variation which is a little more generous, that Buddhist thought is too alien to Western sensibilities, and on this count well nigh irrecuperable, so that a putative comparison of these two thinkers is de facto meaningless. Let me assure such supicious ones that Buddhist thought, and the Hindu thought which chronologically precedes and accompanies it, are as spectacularly diverse and profound and rigorous and challenging and indeed relevant as European thought; that the activity of Greek pre-Socratic schools found their counterpart in the intense metaphysical debates of the early and middle Upanishadic periods - that Indian philosophy divided into materialist, evolutionist, atomistic, idealist, and other schools; that Aristotelian and scholastic logic were matched by the elaborate Indian Nyaya and he Chinese "canons of Mo Tzu"; and that the Western medieval and renaissance periods were also tenures of breathtaking esthetic, philosophic, and religious activity in the East. What is more, traditional Oriental thought is experiencing revived and new growth in contemporary times, especially in the non-Marxist Orient and in large part through fertile dialogue with Western specialists: Chinese logicians with Gernman logicians, Indian philosophers with American philosophers, Buddhist monks with Catholic monks, Japanese poets with Brazilian poets, and so on.
" On Deconstructing Life-Worlds: Buddhism, Christianity, Culture, (Scholars Press 1997)
" Wisdom, Information and Wonder: What is Knowledge for? (Routledge 1989)
from p. 135
The metaphor of foundations has got quite out of hand here. It expresses the notion that the items we can know can be arranged in a single, one-dimensional series in order of their certainty. In this case, what we would have to do would be to get them piled up in that order, resting the less certain always upon the more certain to make the whole set form a pyramid. In order to manage this, we would have first to find something intrinsically undoubtable to put at the bottom, something both immovable and large enough to support the whole pyramid. Philosophers have long noticed that Descartes's Cogito cannot really fill this place, and no other likely candidate has ever been found. Indeed, it seems implicit in the gravitational metaphor that none ever can be found, since there is no end to the progress that is possible downwards.
from pp. 157-158
This mention of how the facts sometimes seem to vary with the values does not tip us into helpless scepticism. It simply calls attention to the unity of the moral enterprise, to the web of conceptual links between all its various facets. The process of change could, of course, be described just as well the other way round, in the form in which it often appeared to those who underwent it, as a recognition of the fats which entailed a rejection of slavery. What was happening was a single complex process with three conceptually linked aspects: a changing view of the facts, a change of feeling, and a change in action, arising out of a changed sense of what action could be decently contemplated. It has been a real misfortune, not just for philosophy but for our civilization itself, that philosophers in the tradition we are discussing have tended to concentrate entirely on separating these factors and putting them in competition with each other, rather than on investigating the relations between them.
Barbara Herrnstein Smith
" B elief and Resistance: Dynamics of Contemporary Intellectual Controversy, (Harvard 1997)
from p. 80:
It appears (on the evidence of, among other things, alternative introspections) that ideas such as "inescapable presuppositions," "intuitive preunderstanding," and "truth absolute" are neither universal nor inescapable. On the contrary, it is possible to believe (as statements in this book testify) that such concepts and the sense of their inherent meanings and deep interconnectedness are, rather, the products and effects of rigorous instruction and routine participation in a particular conceptual tradition and its related idiom. It is also possible to believe, accordingly, that instruction (more or less rigorous) in some other conceptual tradition, and familiarity with its idiom, would yield other conceptions and descriptions of "the fundamental nature" of "thought itself" and of what is "presupposed" by "the very act of assertion." Or, one might say (in the alternative idiom of one such alternative tradition), different personal/professional histories are likely to make different descriptions and accounts of the operations of human cognition and communication appear coherent and adequate.
" The Finitude of Being
" Formless Self
" Impermanence is Buddha-nature: Dogen's Understanding of Temp
" The Real is Not the Rational, (SUNY 1986)
from p. 98:
Whereas in most Western philosophy, for example, in Descartes, the point of departure and the method to reach the nature of reality are clearly defined, i.e., to start with the res cogitans (thinking thing), prove the existence of God, and finally regain some certainty about the outside world. Given his philosophical enterprise of finding a fundamentum inconcussum (unshakeable foundation) for knowledge, Descartes could not have proceeded any other way than he did. His method is discursive, step by step, and analytical. In Buddhism, when there is a fundamental concept, for example, suffering or pain (duhkha), all the essential concepts relative to it manifest all at once. And if there is real understanding of the "access" to reality, the reality itself is present.
Having stated these difficulties at the outset, let us attempt to see where Buddhism "starts." Descartes started with methodological doubt, and arrived at himself, at the thinking thing. Buddhism starts with the Four Noble Truths, which involve neither a self nor thinking, nor a thing. In the statement that life is suffering, the first of the Four Noble Truths, we already have the other two fundamental statements running through any form of Buddhism, be it Indian, Chinese or Japanese, that all is impermanent and that there is no self. The fundamentum inconcussum of Buddhism is unshakable, but, so to speak, unshakable the way an abyss is unshakable. You cannot "shake" what you cannot take hold of. The "foundation" here is bottomless. The only thing "foundational" about it is its absolute givenness. It is, so to speak, a foundation which envelopes us, not something on which we can reach the stability of a "stand".
" Magic, Science, Religion, and the Scope of Rationality
" Action Science, coauthored by Robert Putnam and Diana McLain Smith. Jossey-Bass 1985.
" Knowledge for Action: A Guide to Overcoming Barriers to Organizational Change, Jossey-Bass 1993.
" Steps to an Ecology of Mind, Chandler 1972.
" Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity, Dutton 1979.
" Angels Fear: Toward an Epistemology of the Sacred, coauthored by Mary Catherine Bateson, 1987 Macmillan.
" A Sacred Unity: Further Steps to an Ecology of Mind, HarperCollins 1991, edited by Rodney E. Donaldson.
" A Recursive Vision: Ecological Understanding and Gregory Bateson, by Peter Harries-Jones, Toronto 1995.
" Radiance of Being: Complexity, Chaos and the Evolution of Consciousness
Edward de Bono
" I Am Right - You Are Wrong: From Rock Logic to Water Logic (Viking Penguin 1991)
" Parallel Thinking: From Socratic to de Bono Thinking (Viking Penguin 1994)
from pp. 2-3
We can take the complacent view that poverty, pollution, local wars and local chaos are the inevitable result of change and of human nature. ... If, however, we were to have doubts about this complacency (doubting complacency is a classic oxymoron) then we might get around to asking ourselves threes possible questions:
10. Is it possible that some of our troubles are actually caused by inadequate thinking habits?
11. Is it possible that our difficulty, and sometimes inability, to put things right is due to inadequate thinking methods?
12. Is it possible that better thinking could make things better?
... The standard traditional Western thinking style was set by the famous Greek Gang of Three: Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. ... In this book I intend to examine the adequacy of our hallowed thinking habits. The purpose is not merely to criticize, which is an easy exercise of intellect, but to suggest alternatives in those places where the traditional method seems inadequate.
Kenneth J. Gergen
" Realities and Relationships: Soundings in Social Construction, 1994 Harvard.
" Evolution of Information: Lineages in Gene, Culture and Artefact, (Pinter 1991)
from p 126:
The information in a flow line is thus the encoding of past interactions of the flow line directly or indirectly with the environment. This information encodes a memory of past responses to the environment and is thereby a 'congealing of past history'. The information can also be seen as a partial mapping of the environment on to 'the flow lines'. The environment's current responses is always potentially ahead of the already encoded aspects of the environment. The partial coevolution of flow lines and environment is therefore by necessity potentially out of step in time. ... If a sub-culture or group has internalized within its members a wide variety of responses to the environment, this allows, in the event of changes in the environment, a variety of possible responses. The historically derived cultural elements of the flow lines are spread over a wide pool (as the 'common heritage' of the group, as past 'wisdom') and constitute a reservior of possible responses.
" Toward a Global Science: Mining Civizational Knowledge (Indiana 1998)
from p. 8:
If it sounds like I am accepting the "totalizing" hegemony of modern science, I am. I want to enlarge it if possible, not destroy it. I want to reach beyond the Enlightenment and the modern projects and some of their Eurocentric limitations. But the modern sciences, when taken individually, are not monolithic, ontologically and epistemologically totalizing projects. There are too many differences and even contradictions in the approaches of the different disciplines as to methodology, epistemology, and at times ontology. So science as a totalizing project is totalizing only to the extent that it is an organized skeptical attempt to gather valid knowledge. With that pursuit I am perfectly comfortable. I want only to increase the skepticism, to make it more valid, and to enlarge the catchment area.
" Catching Ourselves in the Act: Situated Activity, Interactive Emergence, Evolution, and Human Thought, MIT 1996.
" Dynamics in Action: Intentional Behavior as a Complex System, MIT 1999
from p. 260:
We are enmeshed in a fabric of time and space, which we unravel at our peril. In part, we are the product of a complex dance between our innate endowments and an already structured physical and social environment. We are never passive in this entire process, however. Even the environment in which we are situated is itself, in part, the downstream consequence of our own upstream doings, both phylogenetically and ontogenetically. As such both culturally and individually, we bear a measure of responsibility for that environment. Once we are mature and aware, we can self-consciously select the stimuli to which we will respond and that will affect who we are in the future. At that point we are as responsible for who we will become as is the environment. And once again, this is true for each of us both as members of a community and as individuals.
" Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought, coauthored by Mark Johnson. Basic Books 1999.
Peter M. Senge
" The Fifth Discipline : The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization
" Autopoiesis and Cognition: The Realization of the Living
" The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience
" Principles of Biological Autonomy
" Tree of Knowledge: The Biological Roots of Human Understanding, (Shambhala 1987), coauthored by Humberto R. Maturana
from pp. 25-27:
Therefore, underlying everything we shall say is this constant awareness that the phenomenon of knowing cannot be taken as though there were "facts" or objects out there that we grasp and store in our head. The experience of anything out there is validated in a special way by the human structure, which makes possible "the thing" that arises in the description.
This circularity, this connection between action and experience, this inseparability between a particular way of being and how the world appears to us, tells us that every act of knowing brings forth a world. ... All doing is knowing, and all knowing is doing.
... Every reflection, including one on the foundation of human knowledge, invariably takes place in language, which is our distinctive way of being human and being humanly active. For this reason, language is also our starting point, our cognitive instrument, and our sticking point. ... Everything said is said by someone. Every reflection brings forth a world. As such, it is a human action by someone in particular in a particular place.
This bringing forth of knowledge is commonly regarded as a stumbling block, an error or explanatory residue to be eradicated. This is why, for instance, a colored shadow is said to be an "optical illusion" and why "in reality" there s no color. What we are saying is exactly the opposite: this characteristic of knowledge is the master key to understanding it, not an annoying residue or obstacle.
" Ethical Know-How: Action, Wisdom, and Cognition (Stanford 1999)
Georg von Krogh
" Organizational Epistemology, coauthored by Johan Roos, St. Martins 1995.
" Pragmatics of Human Communication: A Study of Interactional Patterns, Pathologies, and Paradoxes, coauthored by Janet Beavin Bavelas and Don D. Jackson, 1967 Norton.
" How Real is Real: Confusion, Disinformation, Communication, 1976 Random House.
" The Language of Change: Elements of Therapeutic Communication, 1978 Norton.
" The Situation is Hopeless, But Not Serious: The Pursuit of Unhappiness, 1983 Norton.
" The Invented Reality: How Do We Know What We Believe We Know? (Contributions to Constructivism), 1984 Norton.
A collection of essays:
" "An Introduction to Radical Constructivism", Ernst von Glasersfeld.
" "On Constructing a Reality", Heinz von Foerster.
" "The Consequences of Causal Thinking", Rupert Riedl.
" "Self-Fulfilling Prophecies", Paul Watzlawick.
" "On Being Sane in Insane Places", David L. Rosenhan.
" "Self-Reflexivity in Literature: The Example of Samuel Beckett's Novel Trilogy", Rolf Breuer.
" "Active and Passive Negation: An Essay in Ibanskian Sociology", Jon Elster.
" "Components of Ideological 'Realities'", Paul Watzlawick.
" "Can an Inquiry into the Foundations of Mathematics Tell Us Anything Interesting about Mind?", Gabriel Stolzenberg.
" "The Creative Circle: Sketches on the Natural History of Circularity", Francisco J. Varela.
" Münchhausen's Pigtail, or: Psychotherapy and "Reality": Essays and Lectures, 1990 Norton
" Communities of Practise: Learning, Meaning, and Identity, Cambridge 1998.
Margaret J. Wheatley
" a simpler way, (Berrett-Koehler 1996), coauthored by Myron Kellner-Rogers
from p. 13:
It is the ability to keep finding solutions that is important; any one solution is temporary. There are no permanently right answers. The capacity to keep changing, to find what works now, is what keeps any organism alive.
from p. 14:
Identity is the filter that every organism or system uses to make sense of the world. New information, new relationships, changing environments - all are interpreted through a sense of self. This tendency toward self-creation is so strong that it creates a seeming paradox. An organism will change to maintain its identity.
" Self-Organization, Autopoesis, and Enterprises
Resources for Science
Sunny Y. Auyang
" How is Quantum Field Theory Possible? (Oxford 1995)
from p. 113:
We have large areas of knowledge that are relatively thorough so that each area can be regarded as a large content. We can envision the development of the disciplinary sciences as attaining higher grounds and gaining wider views. However, no matter how high we climb and how sweeping the vista is, the view is always bounded by a horizon. The observed is a formal distinction that signifies the horizon of knowledge, which can be realized in any way physical theories see fit. As "I think" accompanies all my experiences, "we think" formally accompanies all our knowledge. Finitude is a human condition that cannot be obliterated by science. Perhaps we can broaden our horizon to include the physical interaction between quantum and classical objects, but we can never step out of our horizon to attain God's position.
from p. 192:
We have seen in section 27 that individuals must have relational properties if they are to relate to one another. The renormalization program demonstrates again that reliability depends on definite presuppositions. Individuals in isolation are different from individuals in a community; the former must be enriched with relatability to become the latter. The free electron is free only within the electron-electromagnetic field system, in which it is obliged by its own characteristics to relate causally with other electrons and the elctromagnetic field. As for the absolutely isolated and unrelatable electron, it turns out to be a ill-defined fiction.
from pp. 194-195:
Some philosophies assert that knowledge must be founded upon primitive elements that have no conceptual complexity, for these elements are given, certain, and free from theories. The role of theories is merely to organize the given elements for more efficient reckoning. We have found in our investigation that every notion they deem given is conceptually analyzable. One common assumption they make is that the world consists of preindivduated entities that constitute the domain of discourse, over which the variables of theories range. This assumption is shown to be dubious in quantum field theory, in which individuation of events is a major theoretical task that is achieved only with the concepts of space-time and private state spaces. The result of individuation, not the givenness of the entities, enables us to comprehend the world as comprising discrete events. Consequently the concept of individual entities is complex and incorporates intrinsic spatio-temporal notions. The concepts of properties and relations are equally analyzable. Even the basic relations of similarity and difference have important presuppositions that are tied to the concepts of enduring things and causality.
Henry H. Bauer
" Scientific Literacy and the Myth of the Scientific Method, (Illinois 1992)
from p. 61:
The myth of the method is not easily discarded, for one thing, because humankind is reluctant to accept that all knowledge contains an irreducible, inherent elemnt of uncertainty. Over the last few centruries, the authority of science came to supersede that of religion precisely because science seemed to offer more certain knowledge, at least about the tangible world. If scientific knowledge now turns out to harbor ineradicable uncertainties, then science is in essence a false god, and, moreover, is inferior to the God on whom science turned its back. Human beings, after all, do want to be certain about fundamental things, and religion offers (or used to offer) such certainty. So there is reluctance to accept that the method is a myth, reluctance especially on the part of atheists, secular humanists, Marxists, and other such ideologues - perhaps the more so because fundamentalists and New Age obscurantists have also been so eager to topple science from its pedestal of authoritative certainty.
" The Collapse of Chaos: Discovering Simplicity in a Complex World, (Penguin 1994) coauthored by Ian Stewart,
This bears on a major question, which we asked right at the start of the book and have not yet fully answered. Are the patterns we perceive in nature real, or are they figments of our imaginations? In The Mind's Sky Timothy Ferris uses the hourglass as an image of matter/mind: The upper half of the glass is the material universe, the lower half is a human mind, and the sand tricling from one to the other is information from the material world entering the brain. But, as the story of Newton's ears shows, that image is far too symmetric; it puts the mind's view of the universe on an equal footing with the universe's view of the mind. Now, the sand inside the mind is indeed a model of the material world, and it is that model that we manipulate when we seek patterns. The material world is not part of our minds. But our minds are part of the material world. The lower half of the hourglass is inside the upper half (but not vice versa). A better image might be the mathematician's Klein bottle which not only bends the lower half of the hourglass inside the upper, but does so in such a way that the combined sureface has only one side. The "mind" half is turned inside out, so that its contents are not directly identified with any of the contents of the material half.
This image emphasizes the fact that mind is a strange loop. "Information" about the material world can get into our minds by routes that do not pass through our sense organs. If somebody hits you on the head with a hammer and kills you, soe rather nasty information about the material world has had a direct and major effect on your mind, by destroying it. Hallucinogenic drugs affect the mind through its chemistry but create images that seem to have come from sense organs. The drugs affect those parts of the brain machine that process sensory data. The have the same kind of "unexpected" effect as the "wrong" coin in the ticket machine, mentioned in chapter 1, which persuaded the machine to disgorge an entire roll of tickets. This possibility was implicit in the mechanics of the ticket machine but was not intended to be part of its function. The same goes for drugs and brains.
The is no hourglass symmetry between mind and matter. To repeat an image from chapter 1, reality may perhaps be a figment of our imagination, as some philosophers argue, but our imagination is definitely a figment of reality.
" Nature's Imagination: The Frontiers of Scientific Vision, Oxford 1995. Essays from a September 1992 meeting:
" "Introduction. The scientist as rebel," Freeman Dyson
" "Must mathematical physics be reductionist?" Roger Penrose
" "Randomness in arithmetic and the decline and fall of reductionism in pure mathematics," Gergory J. Chaitin
" "Theories of Everything," John D. Barrow
" "Intertheoretic reduction: a neuroscientists's gield guide," Paul M. Churchland and Patricia S. Churchland
" "Neural Darwinism: the brain as a selectional system," Gerald M. Edelman and Giulio Tononi
" "A new vistion of the mind," Oliver Sacks
" "The limitless power of science," P. W. Atkins
" "Reductive megalomania," Mary Midgley
" "Artificial intelligence and human dignity," Margaret A. Boden
" "On 'computabilism' and physicalism: some subproblems," Hao Wang
" "Knowledge representation and myth," W. F. Clocksin
" "Memory and the individual soul: against silly reductionism," Gerald M. Edelman
" Techgnosis: Myth, Magic, and Mysticism in the Age of Information (Harmony 1998)
from p. 38:
"The powerful aura that today's advanced technologies cast does not derive solely from their novelty or their mystifying complexity; it also derives from their literal realization of the virtual projects willed by the wizards and alchemists of an earlier age. Magic is technology's unconscious, it own arational spell. Our modern technological world is not nature, but augmented nature, super-nature, and the more intensely we probe its mutant edge of mind and matter, the more our disenchanted productions will find themselves wrestling with the rhetoric of the supernatural."
" Muddling Through: Pursuing Science and Truths in the 21st Century, coauthored by Herbet J. Bernstein. Counterpoint 1998.
"Muddling Through is a book about the sciences in the late twentieth century and about the kind of sciences we need for the twenty-first. It is a book about how the sciences make sense of the world and provide sense to the world. Think of Muddling Through as the basic text for a different kind of science literacy project, a project to reimagine and then enact the sciences as operations of language and thought and as attempts, trials, limited experiments involving things, ideas, and just about everything in between.
"This is also a book about politics (not policy) and culture - that is, about how the sciences are made through arduous and diverse political processes. This book is about how the sciences affect politics not only through technological inventions but by generating the images and metaphors that we apply to every situation and phenomenon we encounter, and by providing the blueprints we use to make and legitimate crucial social decisions. The connnections between the sciences and democratic pluralism need to be revitalized, through both new concepts and innovative social forms."
" The Social Construction of What? (Harvard, 1999)
from p. 68
... the science wars are founded upon, among other things of a more political or social nature, profound and ancient philosophical disputes.
Ralph Gun Hoy Siu
" The Tao of Science: An Essay on Western Knowledge and Eastern Wisdom, (MIT 1957)
from pp. 136-137:
But modern science is beginning to forget the labor of her birth and Galileo's revolt against the scholastic trammels to establish "things as are and seen" in preference to "things as abstracted and conceived." Resplendent in her attainments and power, she is ascending the very same throne of the intellectual monarch she deposed.
Science now appears to be dictating the intellectual fashions of the day. If a plan is not prepared according to the scientific method, it is considered unreliable. If a question cannot be tested by science, it is considered meaningless. If traditional institutions are slow to adopt the scientific way, they are considered backward. If a mode of life is not comprehendible by science, it is considered old-fashioned. As a result of these intrusions, the certitude of purpose in the scheme of things begins to waver. Means are being homogenized with ends.
Many scientists are on the threshold of emulating theologians of the sixteenth century. Some are beginning to develop a pugnacity that bespeaks a deep uncertainty of brittle pride. Others are transgressing beyond their limited compass of competence. Still others seem not to care a doit that the unitary purpose of culture is being blunted and that the wholeness of meaning and the very tradition of a cooperative society are being disintegrated. If encouraged along the current trends, science may soon reach the point of diminishing usefulness to humanity. To retain her contributing relevancy is an important problem of the twentieth century.
from pp. 142-143:
As a result of her abstraction complex, science began to dissociate her thoughts from the parent reality of mankind from which she sprang. She wanted to be left alone to play with her artificial worlds, creating things and systems that often do not harmonize with the scheme of life and upsetting the equilibrium of the world in most explosive ways. For these reasons R. Guenon refers to modern science as the "degenerate vestiges" of the ancient traditional knowledge. Wiser scientists are beginning to realize that a specialist is but an abstraction of man, a personality out of context. They are beginning to appreciate Toynbee's conclusions that "there is no correlation between progress in technique and progress in civilization." Their souls clamor in their native humility for a return to the complete man. Yet to be men as men, they must cease being a particular kind f men. They cannot be men as scientists. They must shake off their servitude to the chains of abstracted and rational thought. They must control the scientific implements, put them in their proper perspective and lose them in the intimacy of their total experience as men.
Ecologies of Knowledge
edited by Susan Leigh Star, SUNY 1995. Contents:
" "Science, Social Problems, and Progressive Thought: Essays on the Tyranny of Science", Jennifer Croissant and Sal Restivo
" "The Politics of Formal Representations: Wizards, Gurus, and Organizational Complexity", Susan Leigh Star
" "Computerization Movements and the Mobilization of Support for Computerization", Rob Kling and C. Suzanne Iacono
" "Representation, Cognition, and Self: What Hope for an Integration of Psychology and Sociology?", Steve Woolgar
" "Research Materials and Reproductive Science in the United States, 1910-1940", Adele E. Clarke
" Laboratory Space and the Technological complex: An Investigation of Topical Contextures", Michael Lynch
" "Mixing Humans and Nonhumans Together: The Sociology of a Door Closer", Bruno Latour
" "Engineering and Sociology in a Military Aircraft Project: A Network Analysis of Technological Change", John Law and Michael Callon
" "Ecologies of Action: Recombining Genes, Molecularizing Cancer, and Transforming Biology", Joan H. Fujimura
" Public Knowledge: The Social Dimension of Science, (Cambridge 1968)
" The Force of Knowledge: The Scientific Dimension of Society, (Cambridge 1976)
" Reliable Knowledge: An Exploration of the Grounds for Belief in Science, (Cambridge 1978)
" Puzzles, Problems and Enigmas: Occasional Pieces on the Human Aspects of Science, (Cambridge 1981)
" Prometheus Bound: Science in a Dynamic Steady State, (Cambridge 1994)
" Of One Mind: The Collectivization of Science, (American Institute of Physics 1995)
from p. 188:
Although we have no reason to doubt the practical reliability of well-explored and well tested branches of the natural sciences, we are also aware of the vast extent of our scientific ignorance on most matters of real human significance. No philosopher now supports a "scientific method" that can carry all before it in every field of knowledge. We must always ask to see the credentials of whatever is offered to us as scientific truth, look at how it is generated and validated, and make up our own minds whether it is more convincing than what we might derive from practical experience, common sense, personal insight, or social tradition.
" Real Science: What It Is, and What It Means (Cambridge 2000)
from p. 4:
This new picture of science is somewhat more complicated that the outmoded stereotype. It is not so sharply defined. It does not claim total competence. It treats human knowledge as a product of the natural world. It does not pretend to be impregnable against thorough-going skepticism or cynicism. It calls for more modesty and tolerance than scientists have customarily cultivated about themselves and their calling. But it does provide stout intellectual and moral defence for science at the level of ordinary human affairs - the level at which nothing is absolute or eternal, but where we often forget that life is short, and feel passionately about pasts that we have not personally experienced, or plan conscientiously for the future welfare of people whom we shall never know.
Resources for Software Engineering
Computers bring mathematical logic out into the big world. They got started in roughly the 1930's with Gödel, Turing, and Church making formal logic more precise by providing a mechanical model. Now formal logic has become a major global industry, contacting almost every facet of life, as the mechanical model has been incarnated as semiconductor circuitry, miniaturized and replicated through photolithography. The difficulties of creating a description of the world become more difficult to sweep under the rug when the mechanical system embodies such formal precision. The glitches in the description show up as computer systems that work poorly in practise.
Nathaniel S. Borenstein
" Programming As If People Mattered : Friendly Programs, Software Engineering, and Other Noble Delusions An exploration of practical ways to manage the engineering process for more humanly beneficial results.
Software Development and Reality Construction
Proceedings of a conference held in 1988, published by Springer Verlag in 1992, edited by Christiane Floyd, Heinz Züllighoven, Reinhard Budde, and Reinhard Keil-Slawik. Contents:
" "Human Questions in Computer Science", Christiane Floyd
" "Learning from our Errors", Donald E. Knuth
" "The Technical and the Human Side of Computer Science", Klaus-Peter Löhr
" "Hermeneutics and Path", Joseph A. Goguen
" "Computing: Yet Another Reality Construction", Rodney M. Burstall
" "How Many Choices Do We Make? How Many Are Difficult?", Kristen Nygaard
" "From Scientific Practise to Epistemological Discovery", Douglas T. Ross
" "Self-Organization and Software Development", Heinz von Foerster and Christiane Floyd
" "Software Development as Reality Construction", Christiane Floyd
" "The Idea that Reality is Socially Constructed", Bo Dahlbom
" "Scientific Expertise as a Social Process", Klaus Amaan
" "How to Communicate Proofs or Programs", Dirk Siefkes
" "Making Errors, Making Sense, Making Use", John M. Carroll
" "Artifacts in Software Design", Reinhard Keil-Slawik
" "The Denial of Error", Joseph A. Goguen
" "Toward a New Understanding of Data Modelling", Heinz K. Klein and Kalle Lyytinen
" "A Reappraisal of Information Science", Pentti Kerola and Jouni Similä
" "Perspectives and Metaphors for Human-Computer Interaction", Susanne Maass and Horst Oberquelle
" "Sortware Tools in a Programming Workshop", Reinhard Budde and Heinz Züllighoven
" ""Soft Engines - Mass-Produced Software for Working People?", Wolfgang Coy
" "Artificial Intelligence: A Hermeneutic Defense", Thomas F. Gordon
" "Shared Responsibility: A Field of Tension", Gro Bjerknes
" "A Subject-Oriented Approach to Information Systems", Markku I. Nurminen
" "Anticipating Reality Construction", Fanny-Michaela Reisin
" "On Controllability", Wolfgang Dzida
" "Work Design for Human Development", Walter Volpert
" "Truth and Meaning Beyond Formalism", Joseph A. Goguen
" "Informatics and Hermeneutics", Rafael Capurro
" "Language and Software, or: Fritzl's Quest", Dafydd Gibbon
" "Activity Theory as a Foundation for Design", Arne Raeithel
" "Reflections on the Essence of Information", Klaus Fuchs-Kittowski
From "The Denial of Error," in Software Development and Reality Construction , pp 193-202:
This paper claims that the modern world has developed a kind of arrogance which is damaging the very projects that it seeks to sustain: in proposing methodoligies to guarantee the absence of error, we deny the incredible richness of our own experience, in which confusion and error are often the seeds of creation; in this way, we limit our own creativity. [p] This arrogance is not an isolated phenomenon that is found only in computer science. Indeed, I claim that it arises in a natural way from our preoccupation with and immersion in science and technology, which are strongly oriented toward control. ... A software development project is not primarily a formal mathematical entity. Perhaps it is best seen as a dialogical or linguistic process, an evolving organization of certain informational structures, continually recreating itself by building, modifying, and reusing these structures. ... Important avenues for further progress in Software Engineering seem to be blocked by our inadequate understanding of the processes involved in developing software systems. ... Although formal methods can be very powerful when they are properly applied, they also have definite limitations, and formal, rationalistic understanding is only one of many approaches to understanding. Intuition and spiritual understanding are alternatives that seem more important in certain ways.
" Data and Reality: Basic Assumptions in Data Processing Reconsidered. (North-Holland 1978)
from page 9:
We seem to have little difficulty with the concept of "one person" despite changes in appearance, personality, capabilities, and, above all, chemical composition. (The proportions and structure - i.e., the chemical formulas - may not change much, but the individual atoms and melecules are continually being replaced... again illustrating an ambiguity between "same kind" and "same instance": how rapidly is the chemical composition of your body changing?) When we speak of the same person over a period of time, we certainly are not referring to the same ensemble of atoms and molecules. What then is the "same person"? We can only appeal to some vague intuition obout the "continuity" of - something - through gradual change. The concept of "same person" is so familiar and obvious that it is absolutely irritating no to be able to define it. Definitions in terms of "soul" and "spirit" may be the only true and humanisitic concepts, but, significantly, we don't know how to deal with them in a computer-based information system. It is only when the notion of "person" is pushed to some limit do we realize how imprecise the notion is.
from p. 203:
In an absolute sense, there is no singular objective reality. But we can share a common enough view of it for most of our working purposes, so that reality does appear to be objective and stable.
But the chances of acieving such a shared view become poorer when we try to encompass broader purposes, and to involve more people. This is precisely why the question is becoming more relevant today: the thrust of technology is to foster interaction among greater numbers of people, and to integrate processes into monoliths serving wider and wider purposes. It is in this environment that discrepencies in fundamental assumputions will become increasingly exposed.
" ONE HALF OF A MANIFESTO
" "There is nothing more gray, stultifying, or dreary than a life lived inside the confines of a theory."
Research Methods in Information Systems
Proceedings of colloquium held in 1984 titled, "Information Systems Research: a doubtful science?", edited by Enid Mumford, Rudi Hirschheim, Guy Fitzgerald, and Trevor Wood-Harper, published by Elsevier in 1985. Contents:
" "Information Systems Research Methodology: An Introduction to the Debate", G. Fitzgerald, R. A. Hirschheim, E. Mumford and A. T. Wood-Harper
" "Information Systems Epistemology: An Historical Perspective", Rudi Hirschheim
" "Acquiring Knowledge of Information Systems - Research in a Methodological Quagmire", Hans-Erik Nissen
" "Contextualist Research and the Study of Organizational Change Processes", Andrew M. Pettigrew
" "Socio-Technical Design, Trade Union Strategies and Action Research", Ake Sandberg
" "Research Methodologies and MIS Research", A. Milton Jenkins
" "Development, Application and Enrichment of STROBE: Refinement of an Observational Tool for the Information Analyst", Kenneth Kendall and Julie Kendall
" "The Poverty of Scientism in Information Systems", Heinz K. Klein and Kalle Lyytinen
" "Research Methods in Information Systems: Using Action Research", Trevor Wood-Harper
" "Phenomenology: A Preferred Approach to Research on Information Systems", Richard J. Boland, Jr.
" "Selection of a Research Method", Lyn Antill
" "The Critical Theory of Jurgen Habermas as a Basis for a Theory of Information Systems", Kalle Lyytinen and Heinz K. Klein
" ""Perception and Deceptions: Issues for Information Systems Research", Kathy Brittain White
" "The Need for Longitudinal Designs in the Study of Computing Environments", Nicholas P. Vitalari
" "In Search of a Paradigm for Information Systems Research", Robert D. Galliers
" "Two Research Methodologies for Studying User Development of Data Systems", Per Flensburg
" "Research People Problems: Some Advice to a Student", Enid Mumford
Brian Cantwell Smith
" On the Origin of Objects, MIT Press 1996.
from p. vii-viii:
Having spent more than twenty-five years working in the trenches of practicing computer science, in a long-term effort to develop an empirically responsible theory of computation, I had never met such a logically pure entity, never met such a lapidary individual thing.
from p. 3:
This book introduces a new metaphysics - a philosophy of presence - that aims to steer a path between the Scylla of naive realism and the Charybdis of pure constructivism. The goal is to develop an integral account that retains the essential humility underlying each tradition: a form of epistemic deference to the world that underlies realism, and a respect for the constitutive human involvement in the world that underwrites constructivism. The proposal is also intended to be neutral with respoect to (a late twentieth-century update of) C. P. Snow's famous two culutres - serving equally as a foundation for the academic, intellectual, and technological, on the one hand, and for the curious, the moral, the erotic, the political, the artistic, and the sheerly obstreperous, on the other.
from pp. 288-289
Objects are not stabilized only through acts of disconnected focusing, in other words. Nor are they stabilized merely in virtue of their own integrity or achievement, or even of the two phenomena together. They are also stabilized by force, through the travails of those who register them. And not solely through the efforts of individuals, or even institutions, but with the full complicity of the surrounding community of practice.
Gerald M. Weinberg
Practical insights into managing systems engineering.
" Quality Software Management in four volumes:
13. Systems Thinking
14. First-Order Measurement
15. Congruent Action
16. Anticipating Change
" Exploring Requirements : Quality Before Design coauthored by Donald Gause.
" On the Design of Stable Systems, (Wiley 1979) coauthored by Daniela Weinberg.
from pp. 67-69:
Now we can see what really "distinguishes [physics and chemistry] from biology." There is nothing "inherent" or "legitimate" in their use of statistics - that is, in their use of means or of types. In nature, we very rarely find a bar of pure gold or a solution of pure glucose. In fact, we very rarely find "pure" undifferentiated anything, since purity is one of those observer's fictions. The physicist has to work very, very hard to get her "pure" gold, and even then she will have a mixture of isotopes, unless she works very much harder.
The reason we don't speak of "physical variation" is that the physicist has chosen not to work with naturally occurring systems, but, rather, with the products of her laboratory. Most of her time in that laboratory is spent eliminating the variation and keeping it eliminated. Moreover, she must artificially ensure the survival of each aggregate, for a lump of pure gold, and especially a solution of pure glucose, would not survive long without the active participation of the scientist.
The reductionist - interested in "law" - emphasizes the sameness; the antireductionist - interested in "life" - emphasizes the difference. If the reductionist goes to the extreme, his laws are about systems that have zero probability of being observed; while if the antireductionist goes to his extreme, his systems also have zero probability of being observed - for if a system is truly unique, our minds cannot deal with it at all. In the first case the system does not exist, while in the second we have no way of observing its existence.
" An Introduction to General Systems Thinking
Resources for Mathematics
" Situations and Attitudes, (MIT 1983), coauthored by John Perry.
from p. ix:
In recent years a different perspective, one we associate with Thomas Reid, has been revitalized by the work of the psychologist J. J. Gibson and a famous paper by Hilary Putnam, "The meaning of 'Meaning.'" Gibson, studying the coordinated perception and action of animals, found much more information in the environment (and so less work to be done by the animal brain, or mind) than the traditional view of perception admitted; and Putnam's paper, we think, shows that there is much more meaning and information in the world and less in the head than the traditional view of meaning assumed. From these two complementary movements a new realism has emerged, Ecological Realism, a view that finds meaning located in the interaction of living things and their environment. What began for us as an exercise in technical philosohpy, reworking Frege, undoing his mistake, led us step by inevitable step to working out the beginnings of a theory of meaning implicit in this new realism.
" Vicious Circles: On the Mathematics of Non-Wellfounded Phenomena, (CSLI 1996), coauthored with Lawrence Moss.
from p. 5:
In certain circles, it has been thought that there is a conflict between circular phenomena, on the one hand, and mathematical rigor, on the other. This belief rests on two assumptions. One is that anything mathematically rigorous must be reducible to set theory. The other assumption is that the only coherent conception of set precludes circularity. As a result of these two assumptions, it is not uncommon to hear circular analyses of philosophical, linguistic, or comutational phenomena attacked on the grounds that they conflict with one of the basic axioms of mathematics. But both assumptions are mistaken and the attack is groundless.
" The Logic of Distributed Systems, (Cambridge 1997), coauthored by Jerry Seligman.
from p. 219:
We have required that our regimentations live in the field of real numbers. An alternative suggestion would allow them to live in non-Archimedian fields, like the fields of nonstandard real numbers. One could then allow the tolerance to be infinitesimal, and sorites numbers could be infinite. This goes along with the discovery in recent years that nonstandard analysis often gives an elegant way to model the differences between the very small and the very large.
" Understanding the Infinite (Harvard 1994)
from p. 133:
When combined with Skolem's arguments, those of von Neumann amount to a devastating criticism of our present-day axiomatic foundations of mathematics on the basis of set theory: Those foundations rely on a notion of proof, which requires a notion of finitude for its definition. But, once we specify the notion of definiteness, our axioms enable us to show that the definition of finitude they provide is an iniadequate foundation for the notion of proof. ... The criticism is not directed at the practice of using proofs, a practice that we can certainly acquire without having a theory of proofs or an adequate characterization of finitude. In practice all we need in the way of a theory of finitude is the recognition that any proof we actually encounter in completed form is finite, which is very far from a complete characterization of what it is to be finite. The criticism is directed at a certain kind of attempt to characterize or define what the practice allows in the way of proofs. The attempt fails.
Smullyan relates the puzzles confronted in mathematical logic to the broader scope of living.
" 5000 B.C. and Other Philosophical Fantasies
" Lady or the Tiger? And Other Logic Puzzles Including a Mathematical Novel That Features Godel's Great Discovery
" The Tao Is Silent
" This Book Needs No Title : A Budget of Living Paradoxes, (Prentice Hall 1980, Simon & Schuster 1986)
from pp. 97-98:
"Are human beings like mountains and streams?" This is a profound question, and there seems to be remarkably divergent opinion on the matter! I think may people would say, "Of course they are different!" Expecially those brought up in a Jewish or Christian tradition would say: "Humans are alive. They have souls. They are rational. They have free will and make choices. They are capable of good and evil; they have moral responsibility; they are capable of sinning," etc., tec. On the other hand, there are those ultra-mechanistic types - often in the computer sciences - who say that human beings are basically like mountains and streams; they are both causally determined mechanisms. The human being (they say) may be a more complicated kind of machine but is a machine nevertheless and subject to exactly the same physical laws which govern the behavior of mountains and streams. Therefore human beings are like mountains and streams.
But what a ghastly, perverted way of looking at it! I don't know which of these two viewpoints I find more horrible! The first empasizes that aspect of religion I have always hated. The second is completely inhuman. I also tend to think of humans - at their best - as being like mountains and streams, but for such different reasons! In the first place, I don't think of humans as machines. Second, I don't think of the universe as a mchine; I think of it as an organism rather than a mechanism. Even if it is perfectly decribable, using purely mechanical and electromagnetic laws, I still think of it as an organism rather than a mechanism. And I think of mountains and streams as part of the organism of the cosmos, and a very beautiful part of that. And since I like to think of human beings as also beautiful, I therefore like to think of them - at their best - as being like mountains and streams.
" What Is the Name of This Book? : The Riddle of Dracula and Other Logical Puzzles