February 16, 2016 (Kampala):
George Johnson writes, in his book Fire in the Mind:
“Whether there is hope of converging asymptotically on something called truth depends on whether you believe, like Plato, that mathematics and natural laws exist in and of themselves on some ethereal plane, or whether you believe they are human inventions at best, an intersection between the way the world is and the way our nervous systems happened to evolve.”
But isn’t that a false dichotomy? Why can’t order exist in the ‘out there’ of the world and in the ‘in here’ of the mind AND precisely in the encounter of the one with the other? To me it seems clear that the order of the mind – itself a product of the world’s order – should be inherently oriented toward the order of the world, which is its origin.
George Johnson, in Fire in the Mind, repeatedly talks about the ambiguity of science, whether scientists are uncovering preexisting order or imposing orderly theories on a chaotic, disordered reality. For instance:
“Looking back, knowing what we know, it is hard to shake the conviction that the astronomers and the particle physicists are uncovering a preexisting order, converging on the way the universe really is. [But] if we could go back in time and see the enterprise through their eyes, we would have a stronger sense of science as a glorious human construction, an artful fitting of the data into a carefully crafted mental framework….”
As I wrote before, I think this is a false dichotomy. We are both a) discovering preexisting order AND b) imposing our orderly theories on complex and often misbehaving data. The world is created with its own order, and our minds – products of orderly creation – subcreate orderly ‘worlds’, i.e. our conceptual frameworks and theories. No single person’s conceptual world can hold the complexity of the real world, but our collective human understanding could, hypothetically, as we slowly and falteringly converge on the total truth. It may take centuries or millennia more, but look how far we’ve come already.