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Conservative Political Commentary

Quote of the Day

Lady Liberty

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Science and the Meaning of Things
posted by Bathus

Material existence carries the meaning of things the way the meaning of a book is carried by the words written on its pages. It's not as if words don't matter in themselves, but one would not mistake the arbitrary shapes of ink pressed on paper for the meaning. Neither should one mistake the words, isolated from each other, for the full meaning. All the words of a book affect each other's meaning. They have to be understood together, as a whole. And the meaning of a book exists in some sense apart from the words which carry that meaning, just as the meaning of things exists in some sense apart from material existence.

The modern scientist's concern with what makes up material existence, his quest to master and to remake it, is akin to a concern with the compounds and processes that go into producing the ink and paper of a book. The modern scientist, with our encouragement, begins his quest to remake the book without bothering to read more than a few words, much less trying to understand the whole story. He never grasps that the ink, the paper, and the isolated words are not the meaning. He believes what is almost the opposite, that one finds the truth about the book of meaning by ripping pages from binding to see what they are made of and how they are held together, and then tearing pages into sentences, and then dissecting sentences into words, and then cutting words into letters, and finally boiling the letters down to ink and pulp. Then he tries to reconstruct some of those pieces in a way that seems more useful or convenient for the purpose of the moment. He does not fail to concoct a more permanent ink and a sturdier paper. Emboldened by that success, he will set about repairing or replacing the imperfections he sees in isolated words and sentences that he believes to be most important, which are the words and sentences he imagines he understands.

When something cannot be explained by his method, the modern scientist tries nonetheless to assign a meaning that accords with his method: "Love," says a scientist, "is at bottom nothing more than a series of electro-chemical reactions." (Most of us still refuse to believe what the scientist says about love. Yet even though we disbelieve him about love--the most important thing in our lives--we stand ready to believe whatever he says about almost everything else.) Whatever cannot be assigned a such a meaning, the scientist dismisses as having no real meaning. Thus, a mediocre scientist will proclaim, "the only truth is scientific truth." A better scientist, knowing the very idea of "scientific truth" to be a contradiction of the basic principle of science, instead proclaims, "There is no truth. There is no meaning. There is no love. There is only the expanse of space, particles of matter, bits of energy, and perhaps some sorts of in-between stuff we've not quite discovered yet, but which amount to much the same thing."

If the modern scientist continues in his own way and with our encouragement, he will eventually manufacture something that looks like the real book, the one with real meaning, which he will have ripped apart to produce what he believes will be a more perfect version, or at least a version that promises to be more amenable to our usual preferences. But the story he writes will be a chaos--a loveless, friendless, soulless chaos--within which no one would wish to live.

posted by Bathus | 12/04/2005 11:51:00 PM
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