A primer on thinking and the tools of thought was long my cherished goal: till 1998 when I mounted my first draft of this file. My work to date is a couple of steps, not the goal accomplished. Mainly, I’ve tried to highlight key parts, especially if I find that the majority has missed those keys. This is another step. In this endeavor I stand (or kneel) on the shoulders of others.
In the second chapter of Gregory Bateson’s Mind and Nature, 1979, this reader found a more complete (and wise) coverage of the subject than he’d ever dreamed of. “My” primer would be good if I did no more than list the subject headings of his chapter:
- Science Never Proves Anything.
- The Map is Not the Territory, and the Name is Not the Thing Named.
- There is No Objective Experience.
- The Processes of Image Formation are Unconscious.
- The Division of the Perceived Universe into Parts and Wholes Is Convenient and May Be Necessary, But No Necessity Determines How It Shall Be Done.
- Divergent Sequences Are Unpredictable.
- Convergent Sequences Are Predictable.
- “Nothing Will Come of Nothing.”
- Number Is Different from Quantity.
- Quantity Does Not determine Pattern.
- There Are No Monotone “Values” in Biology.
- Sometimes Small is Beautiful.
- Logic Is a Poor Model of Cause and Effect.
- Causality Does Not Work Backward.
- Language Commonly Stresses Only One Side of Any Interaction.
- “Stability” and “Change” Describe Parts of Our Descriptions.
Rudy Rucker’s Mind Tools would be better if it showed knowledge of that earlier work.
Bateson refers (as do I regularly) to Alfred Korzybski’s Science and Sanity, Lancaster PA, 1933.
My preparedness to read these books comes not from my college or graduate training nearly so much as from an adulthood of reading the great science teachers: Isaac Asimov, Nigel Calder, Carl Sagan, Jacob Bronowsky, Timothy Ferris, Stephen J. Gould … That’s a step beyond my youthful reading of science fiction, especially that fiction which has real science and real philosophy in it: Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke …
Some science journalism is very good. James Gleick’s Chaos and M. Mitchell Waldrop’s Complexity are examples. Sir David Attenborough and James Burke have shown how great TV can be.
More and more scientists are joining the effort to communicate to the general public. Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, Murray Gell-Mann’s The Quark and the Jaguar, Michio Kaku’s Hyperspace, Donald Johanson’s Lucy … (By no means is this in chronological order) Fred Hoyle’s The Intelligent Universe, Desmond Morris’ The Naked Ape and The Human Zoo … Heinz Pagels had several readable books on physics. All of the Leakeys communicated their physical anthropology responsibly, right down to son Richard. Brian Greene joins the parade with The Elegant Universe.
Architects and planners can know and teach scientific wisdom as Ian McHarg’s Design with Nature proves. (He cites Loren Eisley whose science is so spiritual this spiritualist can’t read him.)
Timothy Ferris edited The World Treasury of Physics, Astronomy, and Mathematics, 1991, giving easy access to writings by Richard Feynman, George Gamow, Turing, Mandelbrot, von Neumann, Einstein, Dirac, Dyson, Curie, Popper …
Nothing in my experience however is more complete than Viscount Ilya Prigogine’s The End of Certainty. I’ve started to extract some basic aspects of it, but unless you’ve read a good part of what I have, I can’t imagine what you’ll make of the original.
I just know it.
I was probably nineteen, possibly twenty, before I first heard the word epistemology. But I had an inkling of the concept since childhood. No, not from my lawyer father. Certainly not from pubic school. At church summer camp the apprentice minister asked us teenagers, “Why are we Presbyterians?”
“Because our parents are,” immediately answered a healthy looking girl from New Rochelle. The apprentice had gotten off on the wrong foot. (Because that’s the church that was a block and a half walking distance, I thought silently. Our real church, the Episcopal, would have required my parents to get up an hour earlier to drive us to Sunday School. Then wait around for an hour. This one’s down the block and we kids can walk there on our own.)
My early Sunday School teacher had asked it right:
Why are we Christians?
Nguh? Wide-eyed expectation from the snakes-and-snails-and-puppy-dog-tails celebrants.
“Because we have witnesses!” Mr. Dade had all of my attention. (He was introducing us to the concept of Witness.) “Because the disciples saw Christ resurrected. Jesus even invited them to examine his wounds. Thomas doubted till he put his finger into the holes in his flesh.” The sum of the rest was that they told others, who told their children, who told their children, etc., to his Sunday School teacher telling him: and now he was telling us. Two thousand years of tellings sounded a little strained even to my childish mind, but I swallowed it.
(Gregory Bateson reports that Catholics in particular have a greater than average awareness of epistemology. He also reports the extraordinary oddity that many people, encountering epistemological questions, mistake them for authoritarianism!)
People have been mutilated if not burned at the stake for having too nice a sense of reasoning to suit the powerful. Reasoning has never been brought to a higher state than by the heirs of the Medieval heretics who founded modern epistemology and its close relative, science.
Epistemology is that branch of philosophy which investigates the origin, nature, methods, and limits of human knowledge. Alfred Korzybski suggested that philosophy should be sub-divided and then fenced: epistemology itself should be studied with all diligence; the rest should be reclassified amid the history of human pathology! (I’ve long seconded his view.)
Next, I’ll review some of the non-common sense aspects of the scientific method: principally, falsifiability; but also, the steps from hypothesis to theory, the nature of evidence, data, fact … the difference between fact and theory …
(See also Heinrich Scholz.)
Before taking a break I wish to emphasize the public, open-air nature of science. There’s a limit to one’s social utility if one doesn’t know reason. Modern reason is open: no back rooms, no sub-rosa decisions allowed. The liability of limited social utility skyrockets in a crisis. (And I am convinced that we ain’t seen nothing yet when it comes to crisis.)
Everyone has some epistemological awareness. Why do you think the stage illusionist makes such a point of inviting people from the audience to examine some property? The illusionist himself will firmly, audibly rap some solid part of his rigged apparatus: knowing that the audience, though it has some epistemological awareness, has a very low epistemological awareness. Of course the magicians are beginners compared to the ad men. We are predators. Our prey includes each other: especially in the area of influence (economics, politics, etc.)
Wilson, Robert Anton, Quantum Psychology, Tempe AZ, 1990 is the best epistemological primer I’ve encountered since Gregory Bateson knocked my socks off with the opening questions of Mind and Nature. I’m embarrassed that this my Thinking Tools directory is not yet that simple or comprehensive. Then again, I presume Wilson can pay his rent, isn’t publicly shunned to the degree I am, doesn’t have to scramble and dissemble to get medication for simple, known, disorders … On the other hand, the Wilson work would be better still if it knew of my work: particularly Macroinformation.
For a few years now I’ve been aware of titles like The Third Chimpanzee and Why Is Sex Fun? without having registered the name Jared Diamond. It was my son’s reading a blurb on Guns, Germs, and Steel that brought the name to my attention, my son emailing me that someone else seemed to be making points very parallel to many of my own and that he was getting published.
By the time my son was ten or so I was explaining to him the relationship between the development of navigation in the north and the accident of it being the north that has a pole star. I further speculated that that focus would have aided northern imaginations in other astronomical pursuits including the invention of the sun dial (since northerners can more readily imagine a “focus” in the sky, an axle). Nigel Calder’s syntheses, for example, had helped me formulate other imaginings about origins. But I never ever saw Diamond’s latitudinal correlations. That is, Eurasia’s ample breadth fostered the colonization of techniques such as agriculture, animal husbandry, warfare … more readily than the longitudinal layout of Africa and the Americas. Changing climates is a barrier to cultural propagation. Wow.
Now I find great hypotheses per chapter. His relating gazelle stotting to chemical abuse to mating strategies — both dangerous, one misguided — is just one example of a fabulous series I’ll die happy if I never reach the end of. (2004 07 11 Leonard Shlain has inspired me to think of an alternative explanation which I’ll post soon.)
I give myself a rhetorical (at least attitudinal) edge; but he’s an actual scientist. I inherit what data I don’t live; he goes out and gets it. (Of course he must have the carfare.) Not that we’re in competition — we converge.
I’m way overdue to continue the top part of this piece, but if you could browse pk’s domains (through 2007, now censored), you'[d] see what I’ve been busy doing. So many great teachers belong here I haven’t gotten around to including. Bucky Fuller has a(n incomplete) module of his own. That, I’m proud to say, was a personal contact. One exhilarating, however bewildering, three-day-weekend with Gordon Pask was unforgettable. I’m only now discovering Heinz von Foerster’s influence on me (through Illich).
My work I keep emphasizing flows from Korzybski. My connection to Korzybski was made through Gregory Bateson. Now I discover that others have been doing excellent work on semiotics and epistemology: Timothy Leary, Robert Anton Wilson, the folks at deoxy.org …
Gregory Bateson: Mind & Nature
Quoting from the Introduction of Gregory Bateson’s Mind and Nature:
… It became monstrously evident that schooling in this country and in England and, I suppose, in the entire Occident was … careful to avoid all crucial issues … Official education was telling people almost nothing of the nature of all those things on the seashores and in the redwood forests, in the deserts and the plains. Even grown-up persons with children of their own cannot give a reasonable account of concepts such as entropy, sacrament, syntax, number, quantity, pattern, linear relation, name, class, relevance, energy, redundancy, force, probability, parts, whole, information, tautology, homology, mass (either Newtonian or Christian), explanation, description, rule of dimensions, logical type, metaphor, topology, and so on. What are butterflies? What are starfish? What are beauty and ugliness?
If you haven’t already read, digested, and reread that great book, what business have you here? Go. Find it. Try to understand everything in Chapters One and Two before proceeding to Chapter Three. Or read it any way you want. Just read it.