The Lower Quote, As If You Didn't Know, Is By Richard Dawkins, Son.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Common Sense

Many years ago when the world was mapped, a couple of people looked at the papers and noticed something interesting. They said (I'm paraphrasing), "Hey, it really looks like South America and Africa fit together sort of like puzzle pieces."

The educated folk likely said something in return like, "Well, it would look like that to unschooled people, but we study this for a living and obviously the continents do not move. We'd feel it, would we not? Come now, let the experts do our jobs, shall we?"

Condescension never was the best way to make a point.

We now know that the "common sense" contingent were correct and the nose-thumbing that ensued when the proof rolled in must have been epic. Situations like this where intelligent, well-read, non-professionals (or just lay persons) have made observations and been right have given way to today where people just assume that they're correct because something seems "common sense" in spite of not just authority speaking, but in the face of (sometimes literal) mountains of evidence to the contrary. This often leads to the Galileo Gambit being used by the underdog.

Ease of understanding seems to be the hinge for discussion on debatable subjects. Take the internet film Zeitgeist as an example. This film spews forth information at a breakneck speed with nary a reference source cited. All it does is make claims that people who don't know any better - and likely won't take the time to research it themselves - will find interesting and, ultimately, convincing.

It's Tower 7, man, that's the key.

Simple ideas can be powerful but make no mistake, common sense can lead us far astray as well. Every time I think of this topic, I'm reminded of an article by P.Z. Myers on Mexican Blind Cavefish. It is a fascinating read that rebuts the sensible assumption that fish who live in the dark don't need to see, therefore evolution selected against eyes, ergo they no longer have eyes. The article states:
Because hedgehog (a symmetry gene) and pax6 (a development gene controlling the eye, jaw, teeth, etc...) are negatively coupled to one another, one can be expanded only at the expense of the other, and what is going on in the blind cavefish is not selection for an economical reduction of the eyes, nor the accidental loss of an organ that has no effect: It is positive selection for a feature (more sensitive jaw and tastebuds) that is only indirectly related to the eyes.
Common sense gone astray, indeed. This explanation is so much more interesting and has so much more depth to it, but it is not something that can be pitched in five seconds. You actually have to listen and pay attention in order to understand.

This idea can be slathered all over so-called "alternative" medicine. So much of "alt.med" can be explained by people who "just know" or think treatment X just "sounds good/right". What's that? There's a tiny amount of mercury in vaccines? Mercury is toxic? Well that can't be good, can it? That's just common sense.

It is an uphill battle we face to talk people away from what seems simple and obvious and towards an answer that is nuanced, subtle, and sometimes messy. Getting the general public to be comfortable with uncertainty and perhaps even (gasp!) changing their minds from time to time with the appearance of new, better evidence would bring forth an intellectual revolution perhaps unseen in history since the Enlightenment.

Not a bad long term goal, eh?

13 Barbaric Yawps:

At 27/9/10 12:46 pm, Anonymous Yojimbo said...

Good luck with that. "Common sense" is one of the most unfortunate linguistic constructs we have (along with "common courtesy"). Sense, as in arriving at a logical conclusion based on a solid premise, is not common at all. It just encourages the "I'm just as smart as them smart guys" attitude.

It could become common, if society valued critical thinking, and made a real effort to teach it as part of basic education, but as it is, I'm afraid the uphill battle you're talking about is one of those Sisyphus deals.

 
At 27/9/10 8:25 pm, Blogger Spontaneous Combustion said...

Your wit, satire, and sarcasm are admirable, I'd like to get some subject ideas from you.

 
At 27/9/10 8:26 pm, Blogger Spontaneous Combustion said...

ps. is "yawp" a reference to the Horton's dust-speck people?

 
At 27/9/10 9:29 pm, Blogger Heathen Mike said...

Hey SC, thanks for reading. "Yawp" is a reference to Walt Whitman.

I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric YAWP over the roofs of the world.


Good stuff, right there!

 
At 23/11/10 9:30 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What's the point of your atheism? Atheism is pointless and should be pointless. Right????

 
At 23/11/10 10:25 am, Blogger Heathen Mike said...

Anon: There is no "point" to my atheism, it is a philosophical stance in response to the lack of evidence in any sort of "higher power". That's all.

The result of my atheism is that I examine claims very closely with the best tools at my disposal - scientific inquiry and reason. Does your belief (I assume you are religious) have a "point"?

 
At 24/11/10 7:08 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No i'm not. I'm an atheist but i'm not like you. I know that there is reason in reason but I don't find any reasonable reason to be reasonable either. Have you read Nausea? Something like that. But I don't agree with Sartre's conclusions. The conclusion is already implicit within the context of atheism itself. But the problem with atheists is that they unconsciously deny the implications of their atheism and try either to justify ultimately meaningless statemnets through reason or refute other ideas through reason which is meaningless and temporal (within the context) in itself and therefore don't stand to reason. Loving science the is categorically the same as believing in God. Atheists should enjoy the freedom of being incoherent. We don't need to follow god nor deify any unchanging laws of nature. We don't even have to care for progress for we are not there when that progress comes. Even a minimum of survival of the species is not a real minimum for morality. We have this metaphysical freedom, after which everything can flow freely and can enjoy irrationality. True atheists are coherently incoherent. Atheists transcends every form of absolutes, for neither the laws of nature nor god can limit this metaphysical freedom. Talk about politics, science, religion, metaphysical systems, etc. So what? Meaningless is the essence. Unlike Sartre, I don't believe that we can give essence to our existence. Our essence is meaningless for we have no sufficient reason for everything.

I'm not saying anything against science. But you have to admit it is as meaningless as religion in the ultimate sense.

 
At 24/11/10 8:08 am, Blogger Heathen Mike said...

Anon: "Loving science the is categorically the same as believing in God. Atheists should enjoy the freedom of being incoherent."

No, loving science is nothing like believing in any god(s). All it is is a preference for evidence with respect to claims made about the natural world. When someone says they believe in God, that means they believe, in some sense, in a "man in the sky". Science-lovers would love to see some evidence for that claim.

I see nothing incoherent in atheism's claims. Most atheists I am aware of are comfortable in uncertainty, but that is much different from incoherence. Also, you said, "Our essence is meaningless for we have no sufficient reason for everything."

This is just patently untrue. If you are speaking in purely philosophical terms, sure, we live we die, who cares, but in reality we have families and children, friends and hobbies - all these things give our lives meaning. You life has as much meaning as you give it. You can be a heroin junkie and OD in a dirty bathroom stall having achieved nothing or you can learn and contribute to society's understanding of the nature of the universe. I think, objectively, the latter life is more "meaningful".

I do not agree that atheism is as meaningless as religion because atheism requires you to search for reasons and evidence where religion leans on faith. The former leads demonstrably to a better human condition and as such is more meaningful.

 
At 24/11/10 9:59 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not referring to the ontological value of the existence of God and the love for science. My concern is about the pursuit of such absolutes, whether physical or eternal laws. What I'm saying is that in the chain of evolution, when we humans first discovered our freedom isn't it the very first and last instance that we were really able to rise against this deterministic world?

Love for instance, what is it? Yes you were right in saying that families are meaningful. But in what sense is it really meaningful? Europeans these days hate families I can tell you that. If even the concept of family as a good is not empirically and universally accepted then how can it be meaningful in the proper sense? If whenever we turn to our subjective ideas and interpretations and see all sorts and forms of relativism does that that mean we have to desperately cling to the laws of nature just to find meaning? Are we happy to find out that F=MA and say hooray? Have we really succeeded in this evolutionary chain because of our rationality and freedom from determination but still want the misery of meaning or "truth" all found outside us? Absurd and irrational. We atheists have the luxury to be incoherent for our freedom is not determined by ANY absolutes. I hope you get at least my notion of the metaphysical freedom. I cannot express it any further.

 
At 24/11/10 1:03 pm, Blogger Heathen Mike said...

Ok, I think you're delving into this more than I'm willing to at the moment. I do, however, want to note a huge generalization you made with this statemtent:Europeans these days hate families I can tell you that.While there are lots of people with sadly desperate lives, most seem to have families that at least provide the minimum satisfaction and meaning, Europe included.

 
At 25/11/10 2:38 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know. This should not have gone to a premise by premise refutation. I hope you don't neglect what I'm saying just because of some things I've said. Let's get back to the point.

There is no reason to justify atheism. It will never have any meaning. IT can have meaning (but still temporal meaningless and meaningless) in the subject but outside or objectively it has none. Only nature has meaning but it isn't human. There is no point to life either for from the start the being-for-itself has no meaning outside of itself. Sartre said "Existentialism is nothing else than an attempt to draw all the consequences of a coherent atheistic position", this pretty sums up what I've been saying. You may agree or not agree but do you get the point?

 
At 7/12/10 8:22 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a weakling! I don't fully understand the other dude but why didn't you answer? I somehow sense he's really talking about something deep.

 
At 10/12/10 9:09 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Neither position stand up to reason.

 

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