Sunday, October 29, 2017

Meditation on a T-Shirt (Standing Up for Science, in Good Faith)

A really neat T-shirt on sale on the web says on its front,

            Earth Is Not Flat
         Vaccines Work
         We've Been To The Moon
         Chemtrails Aren't A Thing
         Climate Change Is Real
         Stand Up For Science

But if I were making a shirt for myself, I'd want on on the back,

         Teaching Flat-Earth v. Round-Earth Hypotheses Is a Fine Way to Introduce Kids to Scientific Method and the History and Philosophy of Science
         The Human Species Evolved Like the Other Species, and Is Contingent, Not Special
         In a Universe of "Billions and Billions of Stars," the Human Species Is Trivial
         If There's a Multiverse of Universes, the Human Species Is Really Trivial
         If the Human Species Is Trivial, You Certainly Are Nothing Special
         If You Eat Carrots, Let Alone Hamburgers, You Deny that Life Is Sacred
         Like the Carrot or Steer You Eat, When You're Dead You're Dead
         Belief that "in the Big Picture" Humans Have Value Over, Say, Sheep or Cockroaches Is Necessary But Absurd
         Stand Up For Science and Its Implications

Herman Melville's Ishmael (or just the Narrator of much of Moby Dick) tells us that "[…] the truest of all books is Solomon's, and Ecclesiastes is the fine hammered steel of woe. 'All is vanity.' ALL" (ch. xcvi, "The Try-Works"). In a bit more detail, and more modern language — "vanity" means "emptiness": "All is emptiness" and "a striving after wind" — Koheleth tells us that he looked deeply into the truth of things and "decided as regards men, to dissociate them [from] the divine beings," gods and angels, "and to face that fact that they are beasts. For in respect of the fate of man and the fate of beast, they have one and the same fate: as the one dies so dies the other, and both have the same lifebreath; man has no superiority over beast, since both amount to nothing" (Tanakh Ecclesiastes, 3.18-19).

Since the Renaissance and increasingly since the Enlightenment and Scientific Revolution, scientific research has expanded the human-eye view of the universe in space and time and displaced us from the center of things. This is good for human humility — a virtue we generally lack — but it has its dangers.

Robert Ardrey tells is in his African Genesis about a theory that circulated for a bit in the mid-20th century, on "The Illusion of Central Position" as the birthright of every human child. I look around, and I see that the universe revolves around me. "With maturity, however, the illusion is undercut and the child and then the man comes to a truer perception of his place in the scheme of things." 

Nonetheless the theory grants that should a man ever attain a state of total maturity — ever come to see himself, in other words, in perfect mathematical relationship to the tide of tumultuous life which has risen upon the earth and in which we represent but a single swell; and furthermore come to see our earth as but one opportunity for life among uncounted millions in our galaxy alone, and our galaxy as but one statistical improbability, nothing more, in the silent mathematics of all things—should a man, in sum, ever achieve the final, total, truthful Disillusionment of Central Position, then in all likelihood he would no longer keep going but would simply lie down, wherever he happened to be, and with a long-drawn sigh return to the oblivion from which he came. (145; ch. 6)

So let us Stand Up for Science and Truth — but count its costs and face the pain of the human position and condition in the real reality of such materialist truth.

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