Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Purpose and Reason

I came across this the other day. I forget how I got there. It is worth reading them all. Most of them are cogently, simply and intelligently argued. It is not easy to find thought that is so obviously worth expressing. Most of them are also discreetly human. You feel you could actually learn from them. It is rare to feel peopel think.

Our reason is imperfect. We fondly imagine that the ability to make connections and to examine them, to conceive new things and relate them to old things, is the upper limit of intelligence, and that the most intelligent of us can do it perfectly. This is false, and for a very obvious reason. (God might have made our reason imperfect so that we are just capable of blind faith, but remove God and you merely have a faculty which has developed in a certain way to a certain point and no further.) We can no more reason absolutely than birds can fly absolutely. Or than we can see absolutely. We perceive and discriminate a very small part of the electromagnetic spectrum, and even if we could perceive and understand the images of all of it there are other forms of radiation, and other forms of interaction, totally different. If we could ‘see’ alpha and beta radiation, if we could obtain information from neutrinos, gravitons, or gluons would we then have perfect vision? Or would we need to process it all in a different way as well?

Imagine walking down a street. We know that there is something ahead of us because our reason (in the basic form of ‘memory’ at least) tells us this is so. If we stop walking we are no longer aware even of that. While we move, most of us can dimly perceive the next flagstone, but no more. The greatest minds among us can conceive the existence of streets leading off it and can imagine how they might be. That is our supposedly perfect reason; no further dimensions, no notion of what is not like what we have seen, nothing beyond a very small surface, not even the conception that it might exist. We cannot conceive what greater intelligence might mean in practice. One day it may exist on earth, and it will be unlike anything we can imagine.

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