The Dangers of Misdirected Increase of Knowledge

  • Thank you for returning to this, Cassius. I agree we do not need or want to make topics off-limits, and I understand the arguments against complete skepticism.

    - we ought to be able to articulate, even if the precise imposture of quantum woo escapes us, why it is we are confident that the whole thing is a lie and an impossibility.

    I am thinking that the general description of the answer is going to involve affirming how the senses (the three legs of the canon, actually) are really what the meaning of "truth" and "reality" is all about to us, and that any impactful claims which cannot be validated using that method is in fact, for us, a "lie and an impossibility" and to be treated as such. I think also that this is closely related to the direct argument in Lucretius that he who asserts that knowledge is impossible is in a way "upside down" and has to be rejected out of hand.

    I think this is where I am getting stuck, and even anxious!

    I feel acutely aware of serious limitations in human senses and perceptions. We barely even know our own psyches, since so much of our mind is subconscious, and our inability to hold great quantities of information in full consciousness at one time, makes it impossible to form certain connections or calculations (like a computer with limited RAM).

    As for sense perceptions being the test of truth, these perceptions are designed to measure only very limited spectrums of sensory information. Like Martin said, there is verifiably something very unlike classical physics going on in quantum mechanics. Now, Roger Penrose would say that the woo factor becomes a problem when you extrapolate anything from the quantum level to the macro level, but that we are still missing a huge piece of the puzzle in interpreting why classical physics breaks down at the quantum level. Do we not have to admit to a little agnosticism, therefore? It is like we have found in the quantum world, a smoking gun, that demonstrates that we simply do not have the big picture. Furthermore, we might not even have the computational power in our heads to see it.

    What do you think? Perhaps it will just become more clear to me as I keep reading.

  • OK I think all this fits under the category of "waiting" - where Epicurus is very clear, even in the passage quoted by Lucretius, that we do not take positions on things which we cannot get sufficient information. Definitely and absolutely agree with that.

    HOWEVER, there are times when we are confronted with situations, such as the claims of Quantum Woo or religion that consciousness, or gods, control the universe, and we can't simply take an "I don't know" attitude towards those claims.

    As you probably know, that's the point that Lucretius makes in the part AFTER I quoted:


    1743: And though reason is not able to assign a cause why an object that is really four-square when near, should appear round when seen at a distance; yet, if we cannot explain this difficulty, it is better to give any solution, even a false one, than to deliver up all Certainty out of our power, to break in upon our first principle of belief, and tear up all foundations upon which our life and security depend.

    For not only all reason must be overthrown, but life itself must be immediately extinguished, unless you give credit to your senses. These direct you to fly from a precipice and other evils of this sort which are to be avoided, and to pursue what tends to your security. All therefore is nothing more than an empty parade of words that can be offered against the certainty of sense.

    Lastly, as in a building, if the principle rule of the artificer be not true, if his line be not exact, or his level bear in to the least to either side, every thing must needs be wrong and crooked, the whole fabric must be ill-shaped, declining, hanging over, leaning and irregular, so that some parts will seem ready to fall and tumble down, because the whole was at first disordered by false principles. So the reason of things must of necessity be wrong and false which is founded upon a false representation of the senses.

    So with that as the primary point, let me address:

    I feel acutely aware of serious limitations in human senses and perceptions.

    Absolutely, and I am acutely aware of those limitations too. On the other hand, limited as they are, the human senses and perceptions are all we have on which to (ultimately) base our opinions and our decisions. if we reason based on anything else we are totally arbitrary and lost.

    but that we are still missing a huge piece of the puzzle in interpreting why classical physics breaks down at the quantum level

    Yes we are missing that huge piece, and on other hugely important questions we are missing the piece about whether we have any form of consciousness after death, and we are missing the piece in which we verify life on other bodies outside earth, etc. Unfortunately we often have to take positions on important questions with limited information, when those questions are directly impacting on our mental or physical wellbeing.

    Do we not have to admit to a little agnosticism, therefore?

    I probably prefer the term "waiting" ;)

  • I can hear some people saying "It's not necessary to take a position on whether there is life on other worlds, or on whether there are supernatural gods, or on the best response to quantum woo."

    I think that is a legitimate objection, but only for some people in some circumstances. If your circumstances are such that there is no reason for your mental or physical wellbeing to take a position on those issues, then I would agree. But I think over the course of history, and still today, there are many circumstances in which it is necessary for very practical reasons, even in some cases against your will, to "take positions" on issues like that. And in suggesting that, i am not even really referring to "peace of mind" or "cognitive dissonance" issues.

    So if someone is in a situation where they can afford to shrug and say "I don't know and I don't care" then I am 100% in favor of taking that approach. I don't think I am in that situation personally, however, and I think there are a lot of people in the world who can profit from Epicurean philosophy who are not. Distinguishing between those situations is an interesting challenge in itself.

    For example, remember how Lucian said that the Epicurean who almost got himself killed had acted foolishly in that situation. Yet on the other hand, Lucian is clearly cheering on the idea of Epicureans challenging the manipulations of Alexander -- that's what Lucian is doing himself in writing the article to expose Alexander's pretensions. So there is room for both approaches depending on context, but where opposition is possible, my sympathies are clearly with Lucian, and I think we should do what we can for ourselves and for our friends to expose the frauds and impositions

  • Thanks for the link Don! I see a lot of debate about whether Lucian was an Epicurean or not, and i am sure a case can be made that like most people, he had some Epicurean characteristics and some non-Epicurean characteristics. But I would also say that a lot of the people who don't think he was Epicurean approach the subject from a superficial view of what Epicurus was about. Lucian repeatedly sides with Epicurus when he arrays the philosophers against each other, and even when he isn't clear that he is taking anyone's side (as in Hermotimus) if you think about the epistemology or the view of the gods that he is arguing, then I think it's easy to see that he's at least substantially Epicurean in his perspective.

    In fact, it would be kind of interesting to try to line up significant positions that Lucian takes which are clearly NOT Epicurean. I can't put a high priority on that kind of project but if anyone reads this and later sees parts of Lucian that don't seem Epicurean to them, that would be as good topic for a thread - we have a subforum dedicated to Lucian that would be good for that.

  • Omg that program is brilliant, Don! Thank you so much for the link! Now I need to listen to the rest of the episodes AND buy the complete works of Lucian. Lol.