Thursday, 9 May 2013

Pattern Revelation: The Secret Of Science, The Secret Of Skill



Sir Karl Popper was the 20th century's preeminent philosopher of science.  Now before you all tune out and start watching cats on YouTube, here's why that matters.

Science produces knowledge with a precision and clarity that nothing else has ever matched.  It is stunningly effective, and this raises a question.  Why is it so effective?  What is it that makes it so potent?

If we could get right down into the bones of it, past all the clunky words and terminology, past all the fancy white coats and thick layers of mathematics, could we find the core?  The core mechanism that underlies all this success, the core thing from which it all proceeds?

Because if we could do that, well.  Firstly, we could do better science.  But secondly, we might be able to drive that process into areas that it has never before touched, and chart what has before been unchartable, the deepest dynamics of humanity itself.  If this process has opened up such incredible possibilities in the external world, what could it do in the internal?  What could it mean for the future of human nature itself?

Let's start with a simple, and annoying truth.  You can't prove anything right.  Doesn't matter what it is, doesn't matter a damn.  No idea can ever, ever be proven right, under any circumstances, if it is an idea about something real.

Why?

Well, it's simple.  If you take a simple idea - that all swans are white, for instance - how would you prove that right?

Well, you could look at all the swans.  And you can look at every swan that you can get your hands on.  And they'll all be white.  And so you see a million swans, all one after the other, all white.

But it doesn't prove that all swans are white.  Because you only need one black swan, just one, for your theory to fall.  And no matter how many swans you see, you can never know that the next one won't be black.

And indeed, when explorers went to Australia, they did indeed come across actual black swans.  In real life.

Pop goes the theory.

You could say this about any idea, no matter how stunningly self-evident.  That the sun will rise tomorrow, for instance.  It's risen every day since the beginning of recorded history, and quite a long time before that.  None of this proves for certain that it will rise tomorrow.

How about the laws of physics?  Surely they are proven?

Well actually, no.  Because what we have is a set of theories and ideas about how things work.  Some of these theories are incredible accurate, and amazingly good at predicting things.

But that's not to say that the very next experiment you do, the atom or the star will do something completely different, something that shatters every notion you had of how it works.

They don't - but they could.  There is always that possibility.  No matter what.

And so nothing can ever be certain, ever.  Doesn't matter what it is.

However.

And pay attention here - this is a big one....

It can be accurate.

It can't be certain, but it can be accurate.  You idea can - in principle - be absolutely bang on.  If it is, that accuracy will allow you to do things you could never do before.  But no matter how accurate it is, you'll never know, because you'll never know what's around the corner.

And more than this.  No matter how accurate it is, reality is bigger than it.  And what this means is that although new accuracy can open up radical and striking new ways of living (the scientific revolution of the last 500 years or so, for instance), certainty is never on the cards.

What Popper spotted was this.  Although you can't prove an idea right, no matter how accurate, you can show that an idea is inaccurate, if you're prepared to put it to the test.

You see, no number of positive test results proves that an idea is certain.  But just one negative test result demonstrates that it's not completely accurate.

Of course, nothing is certain one way or another, ever.  But then, certainty isn't the point.  Accuracy is.

Most people hunger for certainty in what they believe.  And in fact, it's a strange thing to see, but human beings defend their certainties way beyond the place where any sane observer could see that they aren't true.

To be a philosopher, you have to go beyond this.  You have to stop defending the things you want to believe, and ignoring challenges to the certainties of life as you understand them.  It is a rare path, and most people will never take it.  Many people who call themselves philosophers will never take it.

And why?  Because although accuracy opens up whole new ways of living, revolutionises life and the experience of being human, certainty looks good.

And it does.  Certainty looks really good.  Much better than accuracy.  Accuracy can do more - but certainty can shout.  It can make a big noise, and a big show.  It can invest itself with moral purpose, make itself moral certainty, and provides the finest fuel for unimpeachable vanity.

If you're thinking "I don't want another way, I don't care what's really going on, what I really want is certainty, or at least the appearance of certainty, so I can make a noise and have people listen to me" then I have some good news.  You're in glad company.  This is a view that is very common, an approach to knowledge and what is going on in life that underlies the minds of vast numbers of people.  It is very common.  It is by no means strange.  It is, in fact, the norm.

I'm not going to argue against this here.  I'm not going to try to give reasons why people should care about the truth, or anything like that.  I have found that there's a very simple process that makes doing that something of a wasted effort.  It's that if someone doesn't care about the truth, they're well practised in ignoring anything that challenges them.  And if someone does, they don't need convincing.

What I'm going to do here, is talk about the other way.  A different way of doing things, a different way of handling knowledge.  It isn't as shiny and polished as the simple certainties that ignore evidence against them.  Nothing is.  But it isn't without its charm, and it isn't without its power.

People who care about certainty work very hard to protect the ideas they have from being meaningfully challenged.

But if your ideas are accurate, you don't need to protect them.  Reality protects them.

And if they're not accurate, you don't want to protect them, and reality will destroy them.

And that's why Karl Popper said that the experiment is the centre of science.  Not mathematics.  Not logic.  Experiment.

Right there, right at the core.  The collision of ideas and the real.  A theory tested.  A hypothesis thrown to the flames, to see what burns.

You can't verify your ideas by stacking up a bunch of things that agree with them.

But you can falsify them by putting them to the test.

That's science, that's what Popper saw science as.  How it worked, what it was doing.  That every failed experiment was a step forward, a step toward a more accurate understanding.

But there is another dynamic interwoven with this process.  And it's the dynamic that make science possible, that makes the clarity of knowledge science produces clearly understandable.  Something Popper missed, that is the glue that ties it all together.

To see it, we're going to have to go back a little ways, on something of a journey, to find a problem that seemingly has no possible solution, and find one, and solve it.

The problem was first formulated by the philosopher Immanuel Kant, way, way back in the 18th century.

Kant pointed out that the world as we experience it is mediated through our senses, and our minds.  The world as it actually is, in itself, is not really accessible to us.  There is a wall, if you will, a barrier.  Reality as such can never be known, because all we have are perceptions, and that's the way it is.

The world as we experience it through perception, Kant called the 'phenomenon'.  The world as it is in itself, he called the 'noumenon'.

Now, from that time it's been understood that this division is essentially sacrosanct.  You cannot know the noumenon, you cannot know the world as it is in itself.  You've only got sense perceptions and the categories of the mind.

And for many, this is where the story ends.  This division cannot be breached, cannot be undercut, or worked around.  Anything that you do to try and get to the noumenon - the world as it really is - is just more phenomenon - appearance.

Take a good look at this problem, it's a big one.  A great wall across the entire endeavour of philosophy, of understanding, of insight - a wall that cannot be breached, that is inherent to the experience of human beings as such.

You can never get at the real.  All you have is illusion.

When you read about these things and see the big, fancy sounding words that are used to describe them, like 'phenomenon' or 'noumenon', it can be very easy to think of these problems as abstract philosophical musings that can be safely held at arms length.  Things that are only of real use to people with too much time on their hands, who like speculate in complex and tangled ways about all this, and look frightfully clever.

This is, in all fairness, quite an accurate depiction of much of what is written about these issues.

The fact is that most people like their philosophy dry.  Western thought has become very detached, contrived and abstract.  And this isn't because of a close-knit clique.  It's because that's how Western culture likes it.  Nothing too deep, thanks.  Something that looks clever.  Something I can learn about, so I can look clever.  Something held at arm's length and analysed.  Something for the geeks.  Something that never challenges us.  Something that shakes nothing.

A safe and tame philosophy for a society scared of the dark.

But that's not what philosophy can be.  There is another way.  A philosophy which takes courage as its central driver, not complexity.  That values staring into the dark, into the assumptions that underlie - and constrain - our entire lives.  Assumptions many would like to leave unchallenged, because they fit the small purposes of providing a little foundation on which to stand, and make a show.

It is the hope that we do not need to close our eyes to sustain a belief in our worth or value.  That we are prepared to stare into the possibilities that might undermine it all, in the hope that there is something in reality, and in ourselves, that is real, and really worth finding.

It is a risk, a very big one, because the truth is, there might not be.  And for this reason it is a risk that is very rarely taken.

So let us take it now, stop holding all these things at arm's length.  These issues implicate us, implicate our lives in the deepest and most intimate ways possible.  And to consider them, and the possibilities of them - both good and ill - means to leave behind, if only for a moment, the placid comfort of unquestioned assumption.

There is a wall, it would seem, between human experience and the real.  The noumenal barrier, if you want a label for it.

Nothing can breach it.  The real can never be known.  Never.  Everything we have is just different shades of lie, and all that is possible for human beings is to make those lies safe and tame, so that we do not cut ourselves on the corners.

Many would say this is a liberation of sorts, a liberation from the tyranny of truth.  This is a very common way of dealing with this issue, because all you need to do is sign on the dotted line, and you're off the hook.

You never have to ask any deep questions, never have to examine anything you're doing, or anything you are, with the worry that you might actually find something that will blow it all to pieces.

You never have to admit you're wrong.  That's a powerful draw for many, many people.  Many never overcome it.  Many more never try.

You can just draw shapes in the air to impress people with your clever abilities at shape-drawing, and never have to shoulder the responsibility of having anything you say be accurate.  And you never need to walk the lonely path of the pioneer, because if truth can never be reached, the pioneering of insight is impossible.

This is the dark, this is the possibility.  And it is a real possibility.  Maybe it can't be breached.  Maybe everything's just noise.

That if this is what is happening, there is no hope of truth.  No way forward.  No way through this wall.  You cannot know the real, so all you can do is play with the categories of the fiction you invent, and the fiction that you are, and be content never to reach the real, for it is beyond you.  Be content in your little fiction, little human, and the little life you live.  Say something pretty while you can.  Then die, and be silent.

Placed against the scale of this problem, Popper's insights seem rather small.  You can have your ideas, and test them, and find that they are wrong, and tick them off the list, and come up with new ideas - but there's a disconnect.

Where is the accuracy coming from?  You can falsify ideas till the cows come home - but how do you get more accurate ideas?  Is mere falsification the true charting of the contour of the real?

To a degree, perhaps.  A small degree.  Perhaps over time, if you cross out enough false ideas, you might, by chance, hit on something that is more accurate.

Perhaps.  And you can test that, until it runs out of road, and fails.  And then what do you have?

Have you truly breached that wall?  Overcome that most profound of all philosophical divisions - the division between the false and the real?

In a small way, perhaps.  But not enough, not nearly enough.

And that, it seems, is where the story ends.

Except, of course, it doesn't.

Because for some reason, and in some way, it is very obviously possible to chart reality to an incredible degree of accuracy.

The electronic device on which you read this didn't materialise out of the ether.  For it to be made, incredible accuracy of understanding was necessary.  Not just a little accuracy, but a lot.  The microscopic sophistication of the chips and wiring, the extreme precision of the manufacturing techniques that physically put it together, as part of an assembly line churning out devices of unbelievable sophistication and complexity.

It doesn't work by chance.  It works because of thousands of different theories, each one of which has been refined - through some process - to allow the screen to work, the buttons, the transistors, everything.

The industrial development of extreme accuracy is what makes modern technology possible, and modern technology stands in stark defiance to the assumption that the real cannot be mapped.

It clearly can.

The question is how.

Well, let's stop banging our heads against a wall, and take a little bit of step sideways.

This issue is accuracy.  And we've looked at accuracy of knowledge, but there's another kind of accuracy too.

Let me ask you a question.

Have you ever seen street theatre?  I live in Edinburgh, and once a year, in August, there's a festival here, called 'The Fringe'.  It's the world's biggest comedy and performing arts festival.  The city just explodes with performances, it's an amazing thing.

And one of the big attractions of the festival is the street theatre.  All along Edinburgh's Royal Mile, the medieval road that stretches from the great castle in the centre of the city to the palace of Holyrood at the edge, street performers do their thing.

And a lot of these people juggle.

But they're not just juggling a few balls around.  We're talking flaming torches, and buzzing chainsaws.  Sometimes while on a unicycle.  Sometimes when on a unicycle blindfolded.  It's genuinely incredible.

Crowds gather to watch the shows, and there is a great deal to watch.  And if a man's juggling four chainsaws, engines revving in a deafening howl, you might get to see more than you bargained for.

But you never do.  They never drop them, never catch them by the blade, never get cut.

The accuracy needed to do that is incredible.  To spin multiple chainsaws through the air, catching them only by the handle.  Blink, and you lose your hand.

How are they doing it?  How does someone do that?  How does someone develop such incredible accuracy of motion and reflex?  Are they just talented?  Are they born that way?

No.  They learn.  It takes years, but they take the years, and learn the skill.

And how do they do that?

Well the interesting thing is this.  Say you're learning to juggle - just with little beanbags, to start.  You try it, you mess up.  You drop the balls, you pick them up.  You try it again.

Why did you drop the balls?  Well, you've never tried it before, so you don't have any finesse.  Perhaps your timing was too fast, you reached too soon.  Perhaps your timing was too slow, you reached too slow.  Perhaps your grip was loose.  Perhaps you were concentrating on the wrong place.

The point is this.  Whenever you drop a ball, the reason you do so isn't random.

Do you understand?  Whenever you fail, it's a very specific thing.  You're not just doing it wrong - you're doing it wrong in a certain way.

This might seem like a tiny little point to make, but like the flap of a butterfly's wings, small things can have big implications.

And as you keep picking those balls back up, and keep trying to juggle, and keep failing, over time that way will become clearer and clearer.

Of course, every time you pick up the balls and try to juggle, things will be very slightly different - but there will be a commonality that cuts through all of your failed attempts.  And the more failed attempts you have, the clearer that commonality will become.

So eventually, you see that it's going wrong in a certain way, so you address that.

You try again.  You drop the balls again.  But this time - and pay attention here - the reason is different.  It's not the same as it used to be.  You've addressed the old problem, but you're not immediately an expert.

You're just getting it wrong in a different way.  A slightly more advanced way.  You might not know what that way is - but if you keep practising, you'll keep failing in the same way.  And after a while, you'll see that new commonality that cuts through your new failures, and correct it.

The point is this.  It's not that you fail that reveals the path to improvement.

It's how you fail.

Failure is not random, and when repeated, that failure exposes the pattern that underlies it.

This is how skill develops.  And it's not done by rote-learning.  It's not done by logic.  It's not done by analysis, or by division, or by separating things into categories.

It's done by pattern recognition and pattern revelation.

Pattern revelation.

That when you fail in a new way, that failure reveals a new pattern.  And if you keep at it, the pattern of how you are failing will become clearer, and eventually be recognised.  And then it will be compensated for, and you will get better.  Rinse and repeat.

Interesting.

So here's another question.  Where is that pattern coming from?

Well, the mental recognition of the pattern is an event in the brain, of course.  But pattern recognition is not fantasy.  It's not the invention of patterns, it's not shapes drawn in the air.

It's the recognition of the shape of what is really going on.  We're actually quite good at this, we humans - pattern recognition.  Iain McGilchrist's book The Master And His Emissary (which I reference extensively elsewhere) demonstrates the enormous power of the human ability to recognise patterns.  Or rather - the right hemisphere of the brain's ability to recognise patterns.

But who is inventing that pattern?  Is it us?  Does a young trainee juggler, dreaming of Edinburgh, contrive to fail in a certain way he has decided to?

No.  He doesn't mean to fail - that's why it's called failure.  He certainly doesn't mean to fail in a certain way that is hidden to him.

And that's an interesting point.  The way in which we fail is not something we decide.  It's not something we invent.  It's hidden to us, otherwise we wouldn't do it.

We aren't choosing that contour.  We don't get a say in what it is.  Where is it coming from?

The real.  You're recognising the contour of the real.  But more than this - when you do something real, and fail over and over at it, you aren't just recognising a contour.  You're revealing one.

To reveal a pattern, not just recognise one passively, but actively reveal a new one, there's a few things you need to do.

Firstly, you actually have to throw the balls in the air.  You can't just sit there planning it, or thinking about it.  You can't 'work it out' and then do it.  It has to actually be done.  Physical ball throwing must occur, because the pattern recognition only works if there's a pattern there to recognise.  So something real has to actually happen, and probably quite a few times.

If you're not pushing it at the limit of your ability, you won't reveal the commonality that's holding you back.

The deeper the failure, the deeper the revelation.  You don't want to be failing because of some silly little side issue, like your shoelaces are untied, or you have a headache.  You want to get all the little side issues out of the way so you can get the clearest view of the shape of your failure.

And you won't develop any skill whatsoever unless you admit to yourself that you have failed, and keep failing, and keep admitting it, and look deeply into the failure.

The more you do that, the faster you learn.  And if you never admit that you're doing anything wrong, you'll never look at how you're doing things wrong, and you'll never, never improve.

Humility, therefore, is the accelerator pedal to this process.  Arrogance is the brake.

Curious.

Now let's move back to science, for a second, back to Karl Popper.  You have a theory, you test it, you work to falsify it.

But you're not just ticking failed theories off the list.  Does this make any sense?  This is what Popper missed - you're not just falsifying.

Falsification is not random.  It reveals.  It reveals the contour of the real.  And active work to falsify ideas actively charts that contour.

When a theory fails in experiment, it does not fail randomly.

It fails specifically.  There is a specific contour to this failure, to every failure that is real.  To every experiment that actually engages reality.  If it fails, it fails in a specific way.  Where is that way coming from?

Is it something the failed experimenter invented?  No.  They had no idea it would fail in the way it does.

So where is it coming from?

The answer is simple.  Reality.

Failure in the testing of specific theories is never random, and never 'just happens'.  It always happens in a certain way, and that way is never random, because reality is not random.  Reality is coherent.  And whatever contour is revealed must fit - somehow - into reality, and be coherent with all that is real.

There are other parallels with the development of skill.

You have to actually do the experiment, and actually repeat it.  Thought experiments are of no value.  Something actually has to happen, in real life.

You need to genuinely be trying to find the truth.  You can't just do random test after random test and hope that the data magically tells you what you need to know.  You can't just churn.  You have to churn specifically, by genuinely testing specific ideas.

You have to give the experiments every chance of working.  You don't want an experiment to fail because the test tube is dirty, or the lens on the microscope is cracked.  That doesn't reveal anything deep, or anything about the theory.  So you have to give it a serious, and sustained, and genuine go.  If the theory is wrong, you don't need to hamstring it.  If it's right, you want to see that too.

So you want to push that theory as hard and as well as possible.  Any problem that can be solved with a caveat, use a caveat to solve it.  You don't want to see the theory fail for some piddling little reason that doesn't matter.

You want to break that theory, to the bone.  You don't want to pick at the edges, you want to drive a truck through the centre.  You want to take it to a point of heart failure, so it fails in the core, and on its own merits.   And when you see how it fails then, then you will see something you haven't seen before.

The pattern recognition of the right hemisphere of the human brain only works on real things, on reality.  It's very powerful, but that's what it's 'pointed at', so to speak.  There has to be actual interaction, real occurrence.  The experiment has to actually happen.  You can't just theorise.

But there is a problem.

If you're doing an experiment and it keeps failing in the same way, that reveals something.  But you don't always - or even often - know where that fits into the wider picture.

You can come up with new and better ideas that take the new contour into account, but it's like getting a new piece of the jigsaw.  The contour you reveal is just a piece.  You don't know where it fits in to the wider puzzle, and you don't even know what that jigsaw is supposed to look like when it's finished.

That is a problem.  You just get the contour, revealed by looking deeply into how an experiment has failed.

So how do you put the jigsaw together?

Well, you need a few things.

One, a lot more pieces.  Keep the conjectures coming, keep testing them, keep seeing how they fail.  Every failed experiment reveals another contour of the real.

Two - Remember.  The real is united.  The pieces do fit.  They do fit together, because reality fits together.  There are no paradoxes.  It all fits somehow.

Three - It's not the paradoxes you need to solve.  It's the assumptions that generate those paradoxes you need to question.

And so you have to put everything on the table, everything.  All your assumptions, all of them.  Anything that gets thrown into question gets thrown on the rack, no matter how cherished it is, or how deeply you want to protect it.  No matter how fundamental it is, or how strange it seems to even question it.

Four - Keep stepping forward, keep stepping back.  Pattern recognition is something people are very good at.  Reality does make sense somehow.  There is a way through the maze.  Step forward - get a good, specific idea that can be tested, do the experiment, look deeply into the failure, see the pattern.   Step back, and look at the wider whole.

Five - Persist.  Persist until you have so many pieces that it is ridiculous.  That you have an incredible and sophisticated understanding of the terrain of the entire issue.  The rolling hills, the little rivers, the great mountains and the mighty seas.

And eventually, you will see the simplicity that cuts through it all.  Because there is always a simplicity that cuts through it all.  Reality is stunningly elegant.  It is not a tangled mess.  We are.

This is pioneering.  This is how it works.  This is why it works.

And interestingly enough, there's something missing from the process.

Can you spot what it is?  It's simple.

Logic.

Linear reasoning plays literally no role in this.  The results can be framed in linear language, or a linear framework, as the ideas can - but the core process neither depends on, nor really contains, logical reasoning.

It's pattern recognition, and pattern revelation.  There's no analytical process.

This is quite seismic.  And it's seismic because the assumption that logic, and logical reasoning is central to science has dominated 20th Century philosophy.  It still dominates it.

But this way is different.  And because of that, the problems of divisional thought are utterly circumvented.

Quite a strong parallel between science and skill, I hope you'll agree.  And it could be that this is just a useful metaphor.  But I think that there's something else going on.  Something that has never been seen before about science, about what it is, and about why it is that human beings do indeed have the capacity to chart the real.

Science is, in its heart, the refocusing of the human capacity to develop skill into the realm of understanding.

And in this way, it can genuinely be understood as a true evolutionary leap, in a very specific biological sense.  One faculty, evolved for a certain reason, being extended in a completely new way that changes the terms of what an organism - in this case human beings - are capable of.

It breaches the wall.  It makes possible a true noumenology, a true process to directly chart the contour of reality itself.  It is messy.  It doesn't look pretty.  It looks chaotic from the outside, a mass of failure heaped on failure, over and over, again and again, and then suddenly, something new is born.

The deep simplicities that unite reality, that cut through the blinkered chaos that we build around ourselves, and open up new horizons of scope and depth.

It isn't magic.  It takes a lot of time.  But nothing else human beings have ever developed has anything like this power.

How much time does it take?

Well, think of this. Science is the extension of the processes that underlie skill into the realm of knowledge.

Actually doing science is a skill.

To actually do this there are a million little course corrections that need to be made.  A million failures that need to be revealed.  A million little rules of thumb that need to be discovered.

This is why it's hard to do, but also why it's possible to do.  Malcolm Gladwell famously wrote of the eerie fact that it always seems to take 10000 hours of solid, hard practice for anyone to get world-class at anything.

For anyone to get world class at anything.

10000 hours.  That's 6 hours a day, every day, for five full years.  That's how long it takes to master any skill.  And this is a skill.  And that's how long it takes to master it.

This is also, I believe, the mechanism that underlies what Nassim Nicholas Taleb called the 'antifragility' of knowledge.

Fragility is when things break when you hit them.  Antifragility is when they get stronger, and better, and deeper when you hit them.

But I would add a small tweak to Taleb's insight.  It's not knowledge that's antifragile.  It's accuracy.

This also brings the work of Iain McGilchrist on the brain hemispheres straight to the heart of the scientific method itself.  That rational thought is not what is driving science.  Pattern recognition is driving science.

Pattern recognition, and pattern revelation.

Certainty never arrives.  There is no final stop on this voyage.  As Benoit Mandelbrot revealed, the nature of reality is not smooth, but fractal.  The deeper you go into the elegance, the more elegance there is to find.

Simplicity and complexity are not two opposing poles.  They're two aspects of the real, and do not contradict each other, and neither are ever exhausted.

There is a way to chart the real.  It can be turned inward into the nature of humanity itself.  It can be used to open up a whole new dimension of human understanding, and with it, a brighter future.

But it's not magic.  It takes time.  Time to develop the skill, and time to use it.

And more than this - all our knowledge, even that developed by this new method, is still phenomenon.  It's still concept, still representation, still just idea.

But this is a way of actually getting idea to genuinely correspond with reality.

And so to say - as some I'm sure might - that it is of no use whatsoever because we're not truly getting to the real, is I believe to miss the point entirely.

A map isn't really the territory - but an accurate map is something that completely changes your relationship with the actual territory.

This is what this process does - the genuine charting, in phenomenal terms, of noumenal reality.  And what does this mean for those who aren't so interested in arguing little philosophical niceties?  It's simple.

You could call it, if you wanted to, 'noumenal contouring'.  You could also say that all we are looking at here when you really get down to it, is the actual dynamics of intellectual humility to the real.

Whatever you want to call it, this process has never been recognised by any philosopher of science (Popper, Kuhn, Lakatos et al) as being central to what it is that makes science work as well as it does, or in the way that it does.  But it is.  This is why it work, this single, central process.  Everything either revolves around it, or is this process playing itself out in context.  I hope it's not too crass that I explicitly point that out, it's just been my experience that if I don't, it doesn't get seen, so I hope you'll forgive me for that.

The other thing is this.  This is a way of generating finessed, contoured understanding of actual reality, things that actually happen, dynamics of the real.

Modern philosophy is openly and explicitly defined by it's abandonment of such attempts.  The idea that you might, even in theory, be able to actually know anything about anything real doesn't seem so controversial when you say it like that, and indeed, it seems a bit silly to discard the idea wholesale.

But that is what philosophy has done.  It's given up trying to discover anything about reality, and has refocused only on the analysis of concepts, with no attention given to what they actually refer to.

It might seem strange that this is the foundational core of modern philosophy, but it is.  I think it is a mistake, and a catastrophic mistake.  I think that discarding reality before we begin 'doing philosophy' isn't the kind of thing that sounds very wise, and as such, isn't philosophy at all.

Almost nobody shares this view.  And while that can be sad thing, it's also an opportunity.  Because reality has been so wholly abandoned en masse by the academy, what that means is that there's so many things to see, to discover, to find.

It means that while, yes, this is an unpopular skill that is not given kudos or credibility, it's also a rare skill, and the things that it can uncover are rarer still.

Because there's a much, much deeper point to make.

Real change can happen.  It has already happened with our understanding of the external world.  But the insights of science into the external have not been matched by similar advances in humanity, kindness, or wisdom to put those things to good and sustainable uses, and to open up a ways to live that are free of the pettiness, conflict and pain bound deep into human nature.

This is the new way of doing philosophy.  Deep and real.  The insights that can change your life, uncovered and laid bare.  No fuzziness.  No vagueness.  Just the truth.

This new understanding of science allows it, finally, to be directed to the one place it has never been directed before.  A true fusion of the potent accuracy of Western insight, with the transformative depth of Eastern thought.  A philosophy neither Eastern, nor Western.  The world is too small for that now.  It needs something new.

Global philosophy.

The deepest insights, stripped of all mysticism and magic, cut down to the bone to the core processes.  Tailored specifically for you, through the unique services this skillset makes possible.

So I suppose the question is simple.

Are we, like very small children, still whining about our lack of certainty...

Or do we have the courage to find out what's really going on, even to the core of human nature itself, and change the terms of our future as individuals, and as a species?

2 comments:

  1. Absolutely, 100% why i am studying philosophy and what I plan to do in graduate school. I would love nothing more than to have you as an instructor, and people who think the way you do.

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  2. Absolutely mindblowing!
    Very very nice, the value of failure as the tool to see contours of reality, the humility that is needed, and the scientific act that is actually therefore seismographic. I am very impressed and happy to read this!
    Also so beautifully written and precise and with care and respect!
    I am not a philosopher but I like to think a lot, especially to cut through the jungle and find truth.
    Now a critical question that is maybe a bit confused because it might be that I confuse different categories.
    Does this, what you write, proof that reality has a specific contour, or does it proof that the specific contour exists out of mold ability once the intention prevails, and the actor lets go of concepts in a methodical way?
    In other words: when I set a goal, and after this become vulnerable enough to see every failure as valuable information, in the process of interacting with reality, it seems that the first thing reality does is teaching me to let go of preconceptions, but as soon as I and reality interact as equals...on the level of "how"...it looks like the "what" ( my intention ) functions like "the boss" or the uniting principle to which reality is so to say, happy to unite itself around and collaborate, and reveal itself.
    And I did think a lot about this because it seems a-moral at first sight.
    But I found out that in this becoming humble, all morality is described, and furthermore, that one cannot interact with reality with one intention, without coming into the picture all ones others intentions, and equally all other values of "outward reality".
    So actually, in this way of interacting, one "cleans oneself" of unnecessary (thought) forms by processing information, so the intention becomes "pure". And in and through this, all values, like honesty, care, being precise, beauty, connection, courage, have to be taken in account, have to be done, otherwise the process stops, and these values ARE actually the process, and no outward concepts.
    Now, my question, or maybe statement is therefore: I think what you write proofs that reality is actually form-less, which can only be experienced through the acceptance and respect for every form, and intention is the creative principle that gives form to all things, but since truth protects itself, the intention will never work without the acceptance of the given, and this is why intention often seems opposite to what is, and humans feel separate, but in fact, in the acceptance, not as a mental idea, but in working with reality, as an action, ones intention is the core of creation, and this all intentions of all apparently separate beings are one.
    And maybe the question is: what do you think about intention, or how do you define it?

    Thank you very much for the supergood brain food, so I could write this!
    hermieneke

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