Knowledge is Imperfect

Ever since at least the time of Newton we have been in the grip of hubristic fantasies that science could perform a reduction on what we know of the physical world to bootstrap all the significant questions.  From Newtonian mechanics, Laplacian reductionism, positivism, logical positivism, Einsteinian determinism, behaviorism, the type-identity theory of the mind, we tend to get seduced by our own imperfect knowledge into thinking we’ve discovered the template of how it all goes together, and what remains is mere data collection.  All we need is that *master equation*.

Well, guess what.  The more we learn, the more we realize how much more there is to learn.  Every single one of these triumphal isms crashed and burned the more our knowledge expanded.  Right now we don’t have a clue how first-person experience arises from neural tissue, we can’t reconcile quantum mechanics with General Relativity, we’ll never know what’s going on in the Alpha Centauri star system right this moment, we understand everything there is to know about what electricity *does* but precious little about what it fundamentally *is* (fuckin’ magnets, man)  – and nobody has a clue aside from your-guess-is-as-good-as mine speculation about what happened *before* the Big Bang.

So there are some decidedly open questions out there and some people choose belief to fill in the gaps.  Hey, some philosophers chose logical positivism.  Some psychologists chose behaviorism.

None of this necessarily leads to the teleology, anthropocentrism or warrants the ad-hominem attacks for being crazy for choosing to “fill in the gaps” about the fundamental questions.  Unless, I dunno, you wanna call Ludwig Wittgenstein or IP Pavlov “insane,” too, for believing in what would eventually become bankrupt theories.

Understand that “proof” is strictly logical and defined tautologically, like 1+1 = 2.  Empirical observations are always contingent, up to and including the question of whether the sun will rise tomorrow,  only assured by the  Uniformity Principle, which is itself circular.  (This is good; this is why even the most often-observed scientific law is always open to revision from  new data).

So even you, Mr. Reality-Based Community, don’t have “proof” as a reason for why you do things (except maybe to solve math problems).  You’re left, like everyone else, with more-or-less justified belief.  Sure, the sun up tomorrow’s a much safer bet than the existence of a Judeo-Christian God.

But all either one are, are Bayesian inferences. Continually updating as we experience and understand more. And amidst all that probability one might find the Supreme Intelligence, The Highest and True. It has as much of a probability of truth as it’s opposite does. To argue that it can be proven one way or another is fundamentally (according to the scientific method) impossible. The system just isn’t built for it. Thus, we return to justified belief having been shown just how imperfect and subjective our understanding of “reality” is.

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