July 13, 2005

Dawkins is at it Again

There is an article over at the BBC about Richard Dawkins’ recent speech at TED Global.

Scientist Professor Richard Dawkins has opened a global conference of big thinkers warning that our Universe may be just "too queer" to understand. Professor Dawkins, the renowned Selfish Gene author from Oxford University, said we were living in a "middle world" reality that we have created.

This is pretty much the penultimate of Post-Modern thought --- reality doesn’t really exist --- we make our own personal reality exist. However it strikes me as odd right away that Dawkins feels he understand reality in such a way that he can tell others they won’t be able to ever understand it. Not only that, but he warns others about this reality --- that they themselves create?

Professor Dawkins' opening talk, in a session called Meme Power, explored the ways in which humans invent their own realities to make sense of the infinitely complex worlds they are in; worlds made more complex by ideas such as quantum physics which is beyond most human understanding.
I am, therefore my reality is.

Again, Dawkins claims, we invent reality --- however the point that quantum physics is complex (not to even mention string theory) doesn’t really go to show that we can’t know reality --- just that some aspects of our universe are extremely complex, more complex then we will ever understand.

"Are there things about the Universe that will be forever beyond our grasp, in principle, ungraspable in any mind, however superior?" he asked.

Odd here he seems to be arguing things are so complex in the Universe that we will never be able to grasp them --- and then concludes that in principle no mind could ever grasp them. Seems to me he might have been sneaking in a dish against ‘intelligent design’ or that any intelligence could ever understand the Universe enough to have designed it --- but in effect isn’t he arguing that to understand it you would have to be by nature, super natural? Seems to me this is an argument for God in many senses.

If something is complex can we realte to it?
"Successive generations have come to terms with the increasing queerness of the Universe." Each species, in fact, has a different "reality". They work with different "software" to make them feel comfortable, he suggested. Because different species live in different models of the world, there was a discomfiting variety of real worlds, he suggested.

How can there be more then one real world? This is just illogical, I understand what Dawkins is saying --- but just because one ‘species’ has it’s own ‘reality’ doesn’t change the fact that all reality is effected by the laws, constants and constraints of physics. No matter how had one thinks, he can’t over come the fundamental laws of nature --- no, rather one would have to be super natural --- to transcend reality in order to not be incarcerated by it.

Our brains had evolved to help us survive within the scale and orders of magnitude within which we exist, said Professor Dawkins. We think that rocks and crystals are solid when in fact they were made up mostly of spaces in between atoms, he argued. This, he said, was just the way our brains thought about things in order to help us navigate our "middle sized" world - the medium scale environment - a world in which we cannot see individual atoms.

This is very much a red herring, I’m no scientist yet I understand things I preserve to be solid are in fact mostly made up of space --- however this doesn’t change the way we classify something as solid --- its not based on if there is any space in between or not --- its based on how we relate to the object, how we describe it. Its not a different reality, its only a less ‘scientific’ description of an object.

Let’s go over a quick science lesson.

I’m typing this on my keyboard, and I know if I touch the correct key it will result in a certain letter appearing in my word processor. If I construct these letters in a certain fashion it results in words, sentences and so on. However I’m never actually in physic contact with my keyboard as I type this, there are always atoms with empty space in between my fingers and the keys --- but that’s not really what ‘touching’ my keyboard means --- ‘touching’ my keyboard meaning I’m exerting pressure on it that results in a sensory feedback as the space between the atoms in between my fingers and the keys become compressed. Since the surface I’m exerting pressure on isn’t perfectly flat I can ‘feel’ differences in pressure levels --- which result in a feeling of texture. I don’t actually have to ever make physical contact with the keys to ‘feel’ the texture and make a proper assessment of how to relate to it.

No none of this has to do with living in a different reality, rather --- it’s just a way to communicate in a quick and efficient way how one relates to reality. There is no need to understand the underlying quantum physics to understand reality. And coming up with a simple way to describe it doesn’t mean you are creating your own reality either.

I wonder what reality E.T. is in?

Dawkins goes on to talk about how their must be other life out there ...

Because we exist in such a limited section of the universe, and given its enormous scale, we cannot expect to be the only organisms within it, Professor Dawkins believes. He concluded with the thought that if he could re-engineer his brain in any way he would make himself a genius mathematician. He would also want to time travel to when dinosaurs roamed the Earth.

Dawkins’ here is assuming because we live in a small ‘section’ of the universe that because of that fact we should find other organisms within it --- of course he’s not taking into account that much of the universe that isn’t just empty space (most of it) isn't very friendly to life. But that’s real nice that he likes dinosaurs, that’s one thing we can agree on.

Developing world economist and businesswoman Jacqueline Novogratz brought Professor Dawkins' thinking into focus, arguing that we need to fully engage with "developing worlds" to move away from "them and us" thinking. "The world is talking about global poverty and Africa in ways I have never seen in my life," she said.

Funny I got out of Dawkins remarks that it is --- them and us --- we live in a different reality with cable TV and air conditioning.

"At the same time I have a fear that the victories of G8 will see that as our moral absolution. But that is chapter one; celebrate it, close it and recognise we need a chapter two - a 'how to'. The only way to end poverty is to build viable systems on the ground that can deliver services to the poor in ways that are sustainable," she said.

Well what she says is true in part, however we’ll never truly end poverty (we might just raise the poverty level) --- and to massively effect it we’ll need the Church (see the PEACE Plan,) not some government organization, that will never work.

What can 9/11 Tell us?

I found some remarks at the end of the article most interesting.

Former Afghan finance minister Ashraf Ghani added that globalisation was "on speed" and needed real private investment and opportunities to flourish. "Events of 7/7 and 9/11 remind us that we do not live in three different worlds; we live in one world."

Seems to me he’s proving that we really do all live in one reality, one world.

He criticised the West for being only concerned with design issues that affect them, and solving environmental problems for themselves. "You are problem solvers but are not engaging in problems of corruption," he told TED Global delegates. "You stay away from design for developments. Your designs are selfish; it is for your own immediate use.

This is true, but what really do you expect? The west does have its own problems, which we do need to deal with --- there has to be a balance, now of course as he points out it somewhat overly tipped to our own needs. However, our governments should be worrying about our needs, and then others --- but we as Christians should care about the needs of all mankind, and that doesn’t just mean throwing our money at it.


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