Friday, May 16, 2008

What We Think We Know, But Don't Know That We Don't Know

No matter how much I tend to beat up on religioids, they aren't really the worst offenders in the intellectual hypocrisy stakes. The booby prize here goes to those who consider themselves the religioids' intellectual superiors: those who think they know what there is to know, at least in terms of the outlines, though the details may be less than sketchy; and who think that they know exactly what methodology to use and what questions to ask in order to get to 'the truth'. Worse even, knowing what they do know and what scientific evidence holds in their face, they actually think they have an idea what 'truth' actually is.

You know the kind. The Richard Dawkins'es and Amazing Randi's of the world: people who certainly have a 'point', if you will, and with many of whose pronouncements I agree, but who have, at the same time, gone over to the other, equally dark, side of fervor and basically lost the plot. For it is OK to pronounce on the unlikelihood of an Intelligent Creator, the delusion of religion and the fraudulent or simply foolish nature of much 'occult' practice. But it is not OK to think that the available evidence is, even in principle, sufficient to give anybody an edge on the real big questions of existence; or some kind of special insight, based on whatever it is one thinks one knows, into 'reality'.

With regards to the big questions these folk are just as ignorant as...oh, let's pick someone at random they probably all hate: GWB. Or your common-garden Islamic terrorist. Or that kid on a bike over there about to kill himself because he's too dumb to know that that concrete wall he's about to run into is harder than his un-helmeted head.

How can I say that? How can I denigrate the intellectual superiority of these folk?

Well, I don't, actually. All I'm saying is that, in principle, they have no way of knowing anything about those BIG QUESTION things that the rest of us don't know either.

What are those BIG QUESTION things? Well, in a nutshell it's only one and that is:

Is there a '¿WHY?' for our existence?

I bracketed the word in the way that Spanish speakers will bracket a question, with the '¿' and '?' to be considered a part of the word, because this is a special kind of 'why', very much set apart from all the other "why is it so?" incarnations. This is the ultimate 'why', the question about the context that is embedded in no other context, the meaning that requires no reference to any other meaning. That kind of stuff.

I know, I know. Why go for the ¿WHY? ? Why not go for something manageable like "Is there life after death?"

The reason is that the latter is what you might call a 'detail' question; something specific that, given the right methodology of investigation, even one using the 'scientific method', might well have an answer of sorts. On a personal basis "Is there life after death?" is definitely a Biggie, as I'd be the first to admit. But it won't answer the ¿WHY?, or even necessarily contribute to an answer.

Why not? Well, just suppose, for the sake of the argument, that there is some kind of 'life' after death. But there's nothing to suggest that, just because there is or is not 'life'-after-death, that that tells you anything about the ¿WHY? of things. Or if there is a ¿WHY?. It would just tell you that there's a context other than just the 'physical'; what some people might just call 'more'. But it won't tell you how much 'more' there is, or whether there's 'more' beyond the 'more', or how far out there in a hierarchy—or is this a 'hierarchical' structure at all? who the hell knows? maybe it's just 'parallel'. maybe it's both. in any case evidence is sparse—you have to go before you come to ¿WHY? Or if this is just a really dumb question to ask to begin with; a question that, like all questions, limits the range of answers to the extend of rendering them meaningless.

This blog's getting too long. Leaving the theme until the next one. Have a nice day.

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