Monday, January 08, 2007

Things you can say to a wombat

I apologize for turning a comment into a post but something Davo wrote touched one of my more loquatious nerves and set me off:
Each seed is composed of cells. Each cell is composed of chemicals, molecules, atoms. An atom is a chunk of discrete energy. Combinations of chemicals form hormones. Hormones trigger recombinations of molecules. Recombinations of molecules form different cells. Different cells recombine to form the building blocks for the shape of stems and leaves. The “blueprint” for the eventual shape is controlled by genes.

But this is where it becomes difficult to comprehend. Yes, I have “seen” a cell – something denied previous generations prior to the discovery of glass; and how to shape it into a lens – but have never “seen” a molecule nor atom. Have to take that bit of information on “trust”. Do I “believe” it .. yes, much as “primitive” tribes “believed” what they were told by their local “medicine men” (or women).

Analysis and being analytical is almost our only mental tool, certainly our strongest. That post seemed to be expressing a love for the wholeness and a mistrust or perhaps a fear that in taking things to pieces, we loose too much because indeed, the world is more than the sum of its parts.

That perception that none of the "pieces" we know of properly account for growth and other kinds of goodness in this world leads many to posit a missing dimension or power to account for the orderly or at least pleasing assembly of parts that is [was ?] our world.

I would point out that however you decompose or analyse [I like decompose! its ambiguity suits me] and no matter how fine-grained the entities into which you divide the things of this life, there are always two aspects to each of the elements you arrive at:
  1. what the thing itself is in its own
  2. what its forms and capacities for interaction, connection and relation with other parts of its own kind and other kinds.
I submit that we never know that much about category #1 because the only handle our senses and our instrumentation can give us for understanding anything is the properties in category #2. For physicists, this dichotomy is as clear as a still winter morning in the desert because the only definitions and theories they can concoct and test for things like electrons, for instance, are its observables, its interactions in bulk or individually with stuff we can sense or measure. That is why physicists got good at tolerating the "is it a wave or is it a particle" conundrum while still making vast, application enabling, progress in understanding what it would do in various circumstances. I may be extrapolating my physics too far into metaphor but I think there is a fair analog here for how much we really know about ANYTHING via analysis.

We are only human. Most of us are pushed toward all these questions and answers by the big bang of all questions that echos, sometimes below consciousness, in the back of our minds: why?

The purposes of things we do arise from within our own thinking but don't we go too far to presume any event or existing thing outside our own making also ultimately came forth from some intention? But my post on How vs Why is ancient and I don't want to stray that far from the particular nut Davo is trying to crack in this post. I just want to warn that all the brilliant dissection in the world, if pursued honestly, won't find one damn word of "why" and only how. Does the dissatisfaction I sense in this observation about how questionable the "reality" of some of our more advanced dissecting may be stem from the weakness [I say absence] of "why" in the findings? The mention of deity prompts this question.

Though C.P. Snow's Two Cultures may have overstated a divide that none the less exists in some form between humanities and the so called "hard sciences", I think most of us do acknowledge the existance or actively suffer the friction of a more defininte and dramatic divide between the culture of science and the religions that are assumed to permeate so many of our national cultures. Plenty of people have come in Snow's footsteps to write the book that surveyed that gap fairly. But real chasms are hard to straddle. I hope some kind reader can point me to the book that shows a respectful insight into both perspectives and still really tells us something new or constructive for rejoining those drifting continents of thought. I probably should read more S.J. Gould...I hear one never reads enough Gould.

My two sense is that the divide will eventually be found to have much to do with the varying inclinations of individual psyches, tendencies both innnate and inculcated in youth. Else why do we find a scattering of skeptics and unbelievers even in cultures that punish unbelief in unbelievably harsh ways? Authors will search in vain for the philosophical bridge between two innately different attitudes and levels of trust in our own intelligence...its not a gap of two big ideas any more than it is a gap of two different personalities. The resistance to getting seriously analytic in spheres where religion has usually operated, regardless of the fruits of an analytical and experimental approach in engineering and laboratories, assuming retardation has been ruled out, might rest in our own natures as much as our institutions and cultures. There will be those who, though they understand pieces, long for wholes.
The holiness is in the wholeness.

BTW, regarding "seeing a thought": we are actually on the threshold of an era when "thinking" both conscious and unconscious, can be seen, quite literally. But Davo's objection is sustained: knowing exactly when, where and what chemical reaction or exchange of ions between synpses has taken place is not all like we know if the person was making a new connection about science and politics or just thinking "I could use a drink".

It would seem sadly ironic that the triumph of our mastery of the atomic finds its most significant application [in the public's mind and in the mind of our "leaders"] in weapons that could blight if not end the lives we have eked out upon this planet. Note however that the formost scientist [well, the project leader for the science], Robert Oppenheimer, was saddened and profoundly disquieted at the achievement...the McCarthyesque pols booted him from the establishment the minute they had their bomb and Oppenheimer's misgivings were known. Less visible to the public is the way the ideas of atomic physics have blossomed in thousands of minds like mine and left me shaking my head at only one thing: the sightlessness of massed humanity and its so-called leaders. What will we screw up next? Compared to the Manhattan project, we spend orders of magnitude more nowadays on medical and biological reasearch and most of that with the nominally benign purpose of improving our health. But once again, we invent tools we can't afford to acheive results with consequences we cannot predict.

[I hope Davo will forgive me. The planet needs more trees and fewer long winded blog posts but I can not make a tree.]

On the other hand, I think a pretty good case has been made for Seemer Ozmagic's Bosnian Pyramid being older than its Egyptian lookalikes. [just kidding...and checking to see if Cotrunix is reading this]


Anonymous said...

I presume no trees were harmed in the writing of this post.

Ah, decomposition. There would be no reincarnation without compost. :-)

GreenSmile said...

no trees were harmed and only one post took any damage.

I save so many trees by writing stuff nobody would ever print. One of my under appreciated virtues.