Demythologizing Science and Religion (cont'd)

Several people have questioned the dominance of mechanistic thought in the sciences, and I must admit that my understanding of the scientific community comes from reading historical accounts and from conversations with scientific colleagues who began their careers half a century or more ago now -- and from reading works by scientists whose belief systems also go back a number of decades.

The gist of the conversations I recall was that people without an acknowledged commitment to a mechanistic belief system were pretty much wasting their time in the sciences if they expected to achieve professional advancement.

If matters have changed in the past 50-60 years, or if my understanding suffers from the limitations of my very small sample size, I would be happy to be corrected.

In the meantime, to give a little more specificity to my earlier post, and for the general entertainment of folks who happen across this blog, I present a summary below of Professor Marvin Minsky's version of mechanistic human reality that I put together for an earlier publication of my own. The quoted remarks in the excerpt are from Professor Minsky's book The Society of Mind (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1985):

(I should mention that I did write the publisher for permission to use the quoted material and received a reply* with a distinctly impatient tone implying that I had truly wasted someone's valuable time, since my quotes fell so clearly into the fair usage category.)

"There is not the slightest reason to doubt that brains are anything other than machines with enormous numbers of parts that work in perfect accord with physical laws," he tells us (p. 288). He then cheers us on by assuring us that we should focus upon "how wonderful it is to be machines with such marvelous powers." (p. 322)

Professor Minsky carefully points out, however, that we cannot live strictly by his version of the human condition, that in spite of the purely mechanical nature of our brains and minds, we cannot “put aside the ancient myth of voluntary choice.” (p. 307) “Our social lives,” he says, “depend upon the notion of responsibility," which in turn depends upon "our belief that personal actions are voluntary.” (p. 307)

"Without that belief," no shame or blame could accrue to any of our actions. “What could we make our children learn if neither they nor we perceived some fault or virtue anywhere? ... No matter that the physical world provides no room for freedom of will:” the concept of free will “is essential to our models of the mental realm. Too much of our psychology is based on it for us to ever give it up." (p. 307)

In short, mechanistic philosophy reduces life and everything else, including science itself, to meaningless exercises in absurdity.

When anyone gets to the point in an analogy where it implies lying to children as a logical necessity to promote civilized behavior, anyone ought to be able to figure out that something is seriously out of kilter.

The bottom line on mechanistic philosophy: In comparison with everything else that science has delivered to the human enterprise, it falls so short in its social and personal usefulness that any profession with enough imagination to recognize a psychological disaster when it sees one would have long since adopted a more appropriate philosophical mascot.


*I still have the email response from the publisher, if anyone at Atheist Nexus wishes to see it.

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