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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

what we are afraid of

So I've been reading W. Wimsatt's "Re-Engineering Philosophy for Limited Beings: Piecewise Approximations to Reality". It has a lot of material on reductionism, which is quite wonderful, since its always been a topic that fascinates me and scares me. He provides tools to get around the various overly crude reductionisms- the "nothing but"isms. One challenge is that its rather focused on philosophy of biology, and I don't know this literature so well. But I'm still appreciating it quite a bit. In particular, Dawkins' reduction of all natural selection to the level of the gene ("the selfish gene") is something that scared me when I read it, and would like to find more articulated criticisms within the group selection literature.

It occurred to me that extreme reductions may be behind a variety of fears we have. We are afraid of being too machine-like. We are afraid of being too computer-like. We are afraid of being too tool-like. We are afraid of being too money focused. We somehow know that to view all as "mechanism", or all as "computation" or "communication" or "economics" is a kind of simplification that will make many things we value rather hard to articulate. (A friend was recently telling me about his "all is optimization" theory of life, which of course is the very same type of beast.) So the fear is perhaps our reminder to ourselves not to take the (maybe useful) ideology too seriously- a nagging suspicion that everything we value is being defined out of existence.

This occurred to me as I was thinking about my own life and how to form patterns that are positive (a self-help/therapeutic approach to life). I was realizing that I have a deep antipathy to planning things too much. "It makes me into a machine." I say. Or perhaps, "it makes me into a computer."

To say much more, I'd either have to be more explicit about myself, or try to be more precise about these philosophical arguments and societal forces. But I'll stay in this gray zone where hopefully I've still said something useful. (I know its a bad habit of staying in this gray zone, and I ought to start moving out.)


Ponder Stibbons said...

Glad you liked the book!

Boaz said...

I really am liking it. Thanks for suggesting it! The cartoon at the beginning with the physicist talking to his wife is pretty awesome. Nice to think that philosophy of science has something to say about the world besides those things on the absolute largest and smallest scales.