Is Everyone Invited?

We all have some sense of mystery, but the degree varies greatly.  Arthur C. Clarke said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”  The same is true of knowledge, for most people in varying degrees.  If evolution is indistinguishable from magic to someone, and therefore entirely mystical, they can only accept evolution on faith.

If someone cannot understand cellular biology, genetics, evolution, cosmology, etc., or if they can’t see the concilience of it all, or if they get distracted by the edges of knowledge instead of seeing its vastness, can they ever know a naturalistic understanding of everything?

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2 Responses to Is Everyone Invited?

  1. A recent experience has got me rethinking the relative importance of this question.

    In the four days leading up to the last election here in the U.S., I volunteered to help get out the vote in support of same-sex marriage up in Maine. In the course of hundreds of conversations with random Mainers, I heard a sampling of perspectives that skewed heavily toward one-dimensional emotive responses about same-sex couples should or should not be allowed to marry. The Mainer’s perspectives reminded me of Jonathan Haidt’s analogy of the elephant and it’s rider in his book “The Happiness Hypothesis”…

    “The mind is divided in many ways, but the division that really matters is between conscious/reasoned processes and automatic/implicit processes. These two parts are like a rider on the back of an elephant. The rider’s inability to control the elephant by force explains many puzzles about our mental life, particularly why we have such trouble with weakness of will. Learning how to train the elephant is the secret of self-improvement.”

    Up in Maine I saw elephants that had come to hate homosexuality and elephants that were comfortable and accepting of homosexuality, both groups without a lot of steering from their rider. Sometimes even in affluent and highly educated neighborhoods. Almost always in the other neighborhoods.

    But here’s what made this experience precious. The gay and lesbians working to get same-sex marriage legalized, and their supporters, weren’t trying to appeal to their fellow Mainer’s reason or intellect. They were making personal connections. They were petting and feeding the elephant. They have been through enough campaigns to know that this is what works. For most voters, the rider is fickle, the rider’s sway is very limited. (note: this is me talking. The gay and lesbian campaigner’s would not have said this. They are far too kind and gracious).

    Why is this significant? Because, first, it acknowledges that humanity is and will likely always be driven by people’s elephants. That’s reality. But also, the elephant can be trained; Haidt shows us this as did the swing of opinion in Maine. And the elephant is essentially good; Maine voted to allow same-sex marriage because so many people overcame the religiously fostered emotions of fear and hatred that had previously informed their votes.

    So what does this all have to do with people whose rider is in control of their elephant, and whose rider knows the science of elephants? People who can muster a comprehensive naturalistic understanding of everything are the stewards of humanity’s progress, whether or not they like it. They are the prophets of truthful knowledge. They are the Bodhisattva’s of the Enlightenment. Get to work folks.

    Marlow Up River, part time writer, full-time mahout

  2. This question looks less and less important the more I think about it. It’s probably even wrong. I started with the implicit assumption that a rational viewpoint is the ultimate expression of human achievement. Any Darwinist can tell you that there are no ultimate expressions in nature. There’s only what works, what gets selected for vs. what gets selected against. Reason doesn’t get any special privilege just because we feel that we are a reasoning human.
    The question “Is everyone invited” is really asking certain people to leave humanity at large and go off into their own corner. That’s not a sustainable social reality – it’s divisiveness. We know there are different personality types, and that there are multiple intelligences. Heck, the rational personality types are a minority! Some people see the world in (coldly) rational terms and others see the world in (warm) colors and feelings. Consider how some people perceive agency in improbable events: they have a dream, and the next day elements of that dream show up in their life and they impute some connection or agency that cannot be described by any known science. Are they wrong if their personality and cognition tell them there’s something supernatural at work? Their perception of supernatural agency may be wrong from a rational perspective, and the rational perspective can develop scientific theories about why they sensed supernatural agency, but the rational perspective doesn’t have the authority to say that this is incorrect behavior for a human.
    If we are to get along as a species, we need to bridge the supernatural-gap, the very real divide (if we want to look for it) that separates the experiences of those that perceive the supernatural from those that don’t. This isn’t about religion, it’s about the way people perceive reality. I’m now thinking that the way we perceive reality shouldn’t keep us from getting along with each other.
    This doesn’t mean that rational thinkers should accept the inhumane edicts that (some) institutionalized religions proclaim in order to attract, excite and control their constituents. Ideas like homophobia, apostasy, restrictions on individual choice (esp. reproductive rights), and the like are affronts to any and all humans. These *ideas* need to be confronted and banished. Meanwhile, let’s not make humanism, rationality and free thinking be affronts to those that perceive the supernatural.

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