Last time I wrote about Levels of Being and the difference between consciousness and self-awareness. I have also written about mental maps and how we sometimes confuse our mental constructs (models of reality) with reality itself. I find it useful to think we have mental frameworks, but what do we actually know about how our mind creates concepts?
The answer is (like so much of what we think we know): Not much.
Science vs. Philosophy
Philosophy is the study of all knowledge about the essence of Reality and all that exists in it, including human beings. Science used to be called “Natural Philosophy.” It was a branch of philosophy that dealt with the physical nature of things. It is only very recently that the later term was dropped, and we call all things that we study about the physical world: Science. Further, it’s only since the early part of the 20th century that people began to think that science had developed far enough along that it could replace all of philosophy to explain all of Reality. By the time I went to college, philosophy was no longer a core subject of study. I think this is a mistake because without some understanding of philosophy it is difficult to formulate conclusions about what we see in the models and experiments that scientists conduct. (See Bergson vs Einstein).
I believe that science can help inform other branches of philosophy, but when it comes to questions that border on the edge of our understanding, it helps to be familiar with the a broader philosophical approach that has developed over the centuries.
What is a concept?
Philosophers separate the problem of concepts into 3 categories:
Nobody knows what gravity is, and almost nobody knows that nobody knows what gravity is. The exception is scientists. They know that nobody knows what gravity is, because they don’t know what gravity is. – Richard Panek
Yesterday, I wrote a post, A Tale of Two Brains, where I mentioned that scientists don’t know what gravity is. I thought I should add a separate note about it because most people are unaware how much mystery there is in the subject and I thought I should provide a reference to back up that shocking admission of scientific failure.
Richard Panek has written an interesting book on the history of our study of gravity. He also writes about the how most people do not know that science is not as certain about its understanding of how the universe as we think.
In the first pages of his book, he writes of typical conversations he has with the general public and with scientists about gravity. He says that they fall into two categories:
ME: Nobody knows what gravity is. CIVILIAN: (Pause.) What do you mean, nobody knows what gravity is? ME: I mean nobody knows what gravity actually is. CIVILIAN: (Pause.) Isn’t it a force of nature? ME: Okay, fine – but what does that even mean? CIVILIAN: (Silence.)
ME: Nobody knows what gravity is. SCIENTIST: That’s right.
We call gravity a force and we say it takes the form of a field, but we only say this because we don’t know howthe force of gravity exerts its force over a distance. We can calculate its strength, but beyond that we don’t understand how it interacts with matter at all. Still, the general public thinks scientists know all about it.
We live in a time where scientists write all our new mythologies. That is an interesting thought because the purpose of mythology is to explain things that we cannot know for certain about our lives and the world around us. But, the people who come to believe these same stories don’t seem to know that scientists aren’t writing about what they know, but what they don’t know. And it’s well known that scientists are notoriously imprecise with their use of language. Good with math, not so good with words.
So, it’s a very curious thing that we live in a time where the storytellers are scientists and it’s even more curious that there is so little curiosity about it.
While writing about how we conceptualize the universe, I was reminded that when I was a physics student I often found myself dumbfounded over the way the subject was taught. Notation among physicists often seemed arbitrary and inconsistent (“Only a man could think this is clear,” I thought). And then why would my professors use one system of equations – drop them completely and pick up another – without explaining why or how it connected to the branch of physics we were supposed to be studying?
Sometimes, things were just so. Take for example, Einstein’s Equivalence Principle. In what Universe is gravity – which is a field and keeps us tethered to the earth, (Einstein did not know what that means and, to this day, no one knows what that means) the same thing as a force of acceleration – like when we leave the same earth in a rocket ship? And, I must add, I really don’t care if it’s because Einstein said so. He just made principle up to make his geometry work out, ad hoc. (See What Don’t We Know About Gravity?)
Anyway, I was always lost. Truthfully, everyone was lost – all the young men (40 of them) and women (about 4 of us). But even then, over forty years ago, I could see that men and women approached problems differently and that included subjects that one would think that were beyond our differences like math and science.
As I was recalling all this from my past, I remembered this excellent comedy bit by Mark Gundor, a marriage expert, that I had seen a few years ago. He helps explain, in an entertaining way, the compartmentalized approach to real world problems that men use and women find baffling.
We’re gonna start discussing men’s brains, women’s brains and how they’re very different from each other. Now I wanna start with men’s brains. Alright? Men’s brain are very unique, men’s brains are made up of little boxes and we have a box for everything. We have a box for the car. We got a box for the money. We got a box for the job, we got a box for you, we got a box for the kids, we got a box for your mother somewhere in the basement.
We got boxes everywhere, and the rule is: “the boxes don’t touch”. When a man discusses a particular subject, we go to that particular box, we pull that box out, we open the box, we discuss only what is in that box, alright? and then we close the box and put it away being very, very careful not to touch any other boxes.
Now women’s brains are very, very different from men’s brains. Women’s brains are made up of a big ball of wire, and every thing is connected to everything. The money’s connected to the car, the car’s connected to your job and the kids are connected to your mother, and everything’s connected to everything ….
It’s like the Internet super highway, Ok? And it’s all driven by energy that we call emotion. This is zzzzz. It’s one of the reasons why women tend to remember everything. Because if you take an event and you connect it to an emotion, it burns in your memory and you can remember it forever. The same thing happens for men, it just doesn’t happen very often because, quite frankly, we don’t care.
Please note that I am not advocating rewriting the world of STEM for women. That would be very difficult and counterproductive. However, I think women need to hear from other women what it’s like to enter the world of men’s minds – at least at the scientific level. A big problem women have to overcome in going into “traditionally” male fields is not that they cannot understand the material, but that it is full of male mental frameworks that women find frustrating.
But, after all, is it any wonder that over a hundred years after Einstein proposed his Relativity theories in 1905, physicists have developed a model of all the forces that we know of in the universe, called the Standard Model of Particle Physics, except for gravity and its mysterious fields which touch everything?
I hope you enjoy the video. And I will be referring back to it in the future, I’m so very sure. 🙂
My last post was about putting the magic back into our thinking about life. I used to wonder why some people – after claims that science has removed all superstitious thinking – explore older worlds of witches and crystals – or newer ones of comic book superpowers and Transhumanism. Now I know why. It doesn’t matter how much a culture thinks it’s freed itself of all natural mysteries, somehow deep inside us we know that our lives are an awesome, amazing thing and that there must be greater mysteries out beyond us that we can only glimpse at.
Learning to Fly Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne
Well I started out down a dirty road Started out all alone And the sun went down as I crossed the hill And the town lit up, the world got still
I’m learning to fly, but I ain’t got wings Coming down is the hardest thing
One hardly hears discussion of the kingdoms of the natural world anymore. It is introduced in the early grades of our public schools and hardly ever mentioned again unless one goes on to study one or more of the Kingdoms in college. Our secular culture is dominated by the ideas of science and yet so few of us spend any time engaged in the study or practice of science.
Our minds crave certainty and Science seems to fulfill this need. But while Science seems to function as a Culture (See Culture: Where Do We Go From Here?), in reality it falls short. To understand why this is so, let us look at the scientific categories of existence.
Since ancient times the natural world was grouped into four major categories or kingdoms: Mineral, Plant, Animal, Human. Each level has some element the lower level lacks. Each element is a necessary quality of that kingdom without which it would not exist.
The Elements: m, x, y, and z
The elements that separate the four kingdoms are: Matter (m), Life (x), Consciousness (y), and Self-Awareness (z). The letters in parenthesis in the previous sentences are a shorthand so that we can see more easily how each of the Kingdoms are composed This convention is proposed in a little book called A Guide for the Perplexed written by E. F. Schumacher.
Writing each kingdom with its elements, we have a table that looks like this: