Science

Science is the well-spring of technology, and we live today in a world defined by technology. The power delivered to us by science has given us to believe that it is the well-spring of truth. In fact, while scientists focus on differentiating truth from untruth, the importance of science lies elsewhere. Part of it lies in the strategies used by scientists, and the impact it has on their personalities. The primary value, however, lays in the assurance that science provides when we use it to project the consequences of cultural investment.

To re-iterate: science is the process of developing languages that accurately model objective reality – or those phenomena that we believe we can present to another for independent examination. In our discussion of objective reality, we recognized that objective phenomena are variable. One of the impediments to organized science is achieving a consensus regarding which parts of experience are significant. In other words: What aspects of the variable experience do we believe are essential to apprehension of the shared experience?

Knowledge

Our growth as individuals and as a society involves a Lamarckian exchange of our interpretations of experience. In much of our everyday interaction, and particularly in transmitting understanding across cultures and generations, we rely upon language to accomplish that exchange.

The paradigms of science, philosophy and spirituality that I explore in what follows are concerned with the development of languages.

Science develops languages that accurately model objective reality.

Spirituality is the negotiation of the boundaries between “I” and “we”. In interpreting our spirituality, then, our concern is with languages that accurately model subjective reality.

Philosophy is properly concerned with clarification of terms, attempting to ensure that we have a rational and consistent basis for communicating meaning.

In coarse-grained terms: Science builds understanding. Spirituality illuminates meaning. Philosophy organizes our understanding of the boundaries between the two.

The alert reader may anticipate my assertion that science and spirituality exist as two endpoints on a spectrum. The endpoints are defined by scales of complexity and fragility.

Science is not a workable basis for negotiating social issues.

Social conflict is an unavoidable consequence of our competitive interdependence. In a physical sense, it is predicated by the evaluation functions that distinguish entities that effectively manage energy from those that do not.

Achieving an evolved capacity to manage energy, however, is a process: the universe did not leap from disorder into maturity. The only way to distinguish between mature and immature forms of matter is some sort of competitive destruction. Ideally, at some point in our future, a natural death will be the endpoint of life. At earlier eras in the development of consciousness, however, when Darwinian experimentation was dominant, more immediate driving functions, such as predation and brute competition for reproductive opportunity, were necessary to hurry the process along.

In any competitive process, the dominant party is the party with the stronger will. The will to live is manifested most directly as muscles, bones and sinew. The will to create is manifested in the power of the mind.

We exist – happily, I would assert – in the era of the mind. Science is the tool that we use to predict the outcomes of our creative practice. However, within the limits of the possible and the boundaries of the probable elucidated by science, there is enormous variability of choice. The competition of wills determines which of the realities available to us is manifested.

That competition is a spiritual affair. The negotiation of the boundaries between “I” and “we” includes our personal relationships, government and the arts.

Many of those activities involve exchanges of value that overwhelm the resources we can bring to bear to monitor and analyze causes and effects. For that reason, science alone will never be enough. We need coarser concepts and a basis for analysis that transcends the narrow focus of science. Spirituality addresses that need.

Fortunately, my apprehension is that reality has provided us with mechanisms that enable us to negotiate our futures with surprising efficiency. They have escaped our understanding, in recent history, because they have not fit the framework of established science.

Types of Reality

Thus far we have been developing a framework that supports the organization of personal and cultural development. In a nutshell, we should seek to use Lamarckian methods to achieve the conversion of magical thinking into understanding through respectful rational inquiry.

The thoughtful reader will note that there is no moral content to this statement. My goal, however, is to present a convincing argument that moral conduct has concrete physical advantages. Morality is a defensible philosophical abstraction that follows from the physics of spirituality.

To clarify the structure of that analysis, we should first consider the nature of our interaction with reality. I will make a simple distinction, that eventually will be seen to be a matter of personal discipline. I distinguish objective reality and subjective reality.

This distinction between objective and subjective is critical to establishing a framework for organizing our thoughts about reality.

Objective Reality

Objective reality consists of those phenomena that we believe, in principle, we can present to another person to establish a shared basis of experience.

This appears to be a slippery definition. Objective reality consists of things such as our car, Yosemite Falls, a fire, and a kiss. But are those things constant? Do we mean our car in the hour before or after we had take-out at the burger stand? Do we mean Yosemite Falls in Autumn, or in Spring?

The supposition of objective reality is that some component of those experiences is consistent when time and place is varied – enough that we can recognize when a similar or related experience occurs. For example, the experience of Yosemite Falls during any season is a basis for relating the experience of Victoria Falls. In fact, it may be a key element in relating the experience of Victoria Falls to someone who has never been there.

At some level, the supposition of objective reality is simply the supposition that objects and events exist independently of our awareness (conscious or otherwise).

Subjective Reality

Subjective reality, conversely, consists of those phenomena that we believe we cannot present to another person as a basis for shared experience.

Subjective reality consists largely of our emotional and intellectual response to experience. It includes the feelings that we have when we kiss, the apprehension we have of the geology of Yosemite Falls, and the memories that are evoked by a fire.

Why do we believe that we cannot share these phenomena? I am going to assert later that we can come to share many subjective experiences. However, there are two things that make them unreliable as a basis for shared experience. First, we change. The first kiss of youth cannot be re-experienced with our later lovers. Our awakening to the apprehension of intimacy can never be repeated. Secondly, even identical twins will spend some time apart, having independent experiences. Those independent experiences establish a store of associations that affect our subjective responses. While there is conditions under which another’s subjective responses can dominate our own (such as when we allow ourselves to be intimidated by anger), under most conditions our neural encoding will dominate the sympathetic response to our partner’s.

Accomplishment

What holds true for a community of people holds for us as individuals. Our ability to manifest our intention is determined by:

  • our understanding of the principles that control the behavior of the system we wish to influence,
  • our ability to formulate plans, and to use those plans to anticipate actual outcomes, and
  • our ability to take concrete actions to implement our goals.

We refine our judgment by evaluating the outcomes against our intentions. When we analyze ahead of time, we are better able to relate our experience to the point of failure: principle, plan, or implementation. As that skill evolves, we may say that we become more adult in our application of skills.

Achieving adulthood of this type is a difficult accomplishment. It requires a transition to a state of excellence, in which our personal energies are coupled effectively to an environment that responds to and manifests our will.

We describe individuals that achieve this level of skill as accomplished. They manifest physical, intellectual and spiritual grace: they use only the minimum number of motions, ideas and emotions necessary to accomplish their goals.

I experience delight in the presence of such skill and panache. This delight can be the delight of relief, such as when a parent realizes that a child is eating without distributing food around the room. It can be the delight of wholeness, as when we watch two newlyweds on honeymoon able, for perhaps the first time, to devote their attention and skills fully to the delight of one another.

Or it can be the delight of resolution – of seeing a difficult problem laid to rest by skilled practitioners under deft leadership. This marriage of accomplished individual(s) to worthy goal is recognized as an accomplishment.

As we advance, as individuals and as a society, we evolve an array of techniques for accomplishing our goals. Scientific inquiry is one, as is a mechanical tool. Force of personality is another, \as is financial management.

Given a goal, how do we choose the best technique? This is the essential problem of management.

In our discussion of science, programming and engineering, we tackled this analysis through analysis of the various goals, their embedding context, and the skills of the disciplines.

A large part of the goal of these early chapters is to clarify the applicability of the three paradigms of human intellectual endeavor. Each of the paradigms addresses a specific set of human goals, in an applicable context, and requires us to employ certain skills. Individuals will possess varying degrees of native capacity in each area, but I hope to describe general practices that can be used to focus the will to broaden and improve our skills.

In the process, I hope to demonstrate how self-accomplishment – our capacity to manage ourselves – is linked to accomplishment in the larger sense. While this might seem obvious, it should be remarked that our society has substituted energy – the capacity to entrain other people in our wake – with accomplishment. The looming consequence of this error is social disorder and dysfunction, and perhaps global ecological collapse.

Manifestation

As discussed earlier, humanity pursued science as a program for obtaining control over objective reality. While a moral outcome, the principles of science are not moral principles. They are axiomatic statements that define the primitives we can use to change reality. We can use them for good or ill: we can design super-medicines, or cultivate super-diseases. We can create super-materials, or super-weapons.

Science, although manifesting an intention (to control objective reality) and revealing intention (of primitive matter, organisms and societies), does not impose an intention. We do with our knowledge as we will.

On the other end of the problem-solving process, we find engineering. Engineering produces a specific mechanism to solve a specific problem. The artifact, once deployed, manifests the intention of the sponsor that commissioned the design. However, that intention cannot be gleaned from the mechanism by itself.

First, if the mechanism is successful, the problem that motivated its design is solved. Once the problem is removed, how can we know why the mechanism was deployed? Only by removing it. But, once in place, who knows which mechanism came first?

Secondly, the mechanism represents an axiomatic means for creating change. It can, and almost always is, capable of being integrated into some other process. For example, a hammer can be used to drive nails, or to break windows.

Of course, a sophisticated designer might come up with a completely different device for breaking windows: one that doesn’t make so much noise as a hammer, for example. But the window-breaker doesn’t necessarily have the time and energy for such niceties: consider the parent liberating children trapped in a room by a fire.

Unfortunately, as the scale of our endeavors increases, indeterminacy of consequence becomes untenable. If we want to build a six billion-dollar microchip fabrication facility, we would like to have a process for evaluating the design before committing money for its construction.

In actual practice, the manifestation of something as complex as a microfabrication facility rarely comes off perfectly. The problems that occur are the subject of further design analysis. If the statement of goals is not clearly related to the design in place, we may have a great deal of trouble fixing problems without disrupting another desirable behavior. In software, this is the problem of iatrogenic defects: changing code to fix a bug creates another bug, which is usually the failure of a feature that once satisfied the sponsor’s intention.

So how do we manage these problems? Science does not impose an intention, and engineering resolves it. What is the glue that ties science and engineering to the intention of the sponsor?

This is the discipline of programming.

A programmer responds to the goals of the sponsor with a statement of an abstract operational hypothesis (variously called a plan, or a cause-and-effect network) that states the interaction of axiomatic means that are predicted to accomplish those goals. The program is abstract because it does not specify the geometry and components of the assemblage in sufficient detail to allow its construction. That is left to engineering analysis.

With the program in place, we now have the final process for tying intention to outcome:

  • Possibilities are constrained by the axiomatic principles delineated by scientists.
  • Goals are addressed through an operational hypothesis provided by programmers.
  • A concrete construct, addressing a specific situation, is defined in an assembly designed by engineers.

Intention

In a specific sense, everything in our reality manifests an intention. At some scale, those intentions appear trivially primitive: a rock “intends” to be hard; water “intends” to be liquid. But at the scale at which their form becomes manifest, these intentions can become, to those that study them, wondrous and magical. The hardest rocks manifest crystalline structures of great intricacy. A crystal can be thought of as a manifestation of the properties of the chemical and thermodynamic conditions of its growth: it manifests the “intention” of those conditions to produce a crystal, and under those conditions no other crystal can materialize. Once formed, that crystal acts as a seed for growth even under conditions that would normally manifest other crystalline shapes.

Human beings, we typically like to think, are conscious and intelligent in the management of their intentions. Of course, in some circumstances – such as in conditions of war, famine or plague – those choices may be severely constrained: we can choose to either live at others’ expense, or we can choose to die. Infants in those circumstances may never progress much beyond the crude level of the crystal: they are brought into the world through the chance of circumstance, and die.

Bummer.

I don’t mean to be flippant about such tragedies, but as we are composed of matter, it appears inevitable that such conditions will continue to recur. The choice to destroy others to survive is an emotional choice. Rationally, we would agree to preserve the best and brightest in the culture. This is rarely what happens: only those trained to the service of a higher ideal are likely to make this sacrifice. Normally, the descent to the emotions of the survival imperative is accompanied by a complete loss of rational control, and people will act like beasts. The resulting conditions are not supportive of the attainment of higher human aspirations.

In more successful circumstances, the child will be nurtured at least until he or she is able to be a productive contributor to the community. In primitive cultures, this may be as early as eight or so, when the child can manage animals. In modern social elites, it may be as late as 30, after completing a rigorous qualification for research in academe.

At what point does choice become available to an active member of the community? In primitive cultures, usually once the child is able to escape the coercive influence of his or her parents. (For those that believe there is a gender imbalance: we’ll get into sexual politics later.) In advanced cultures, only when the earnings capacity of the child becomes sufficient to sustain an independent lifestyle. This can be anywhere from 13 to 40 years of age.

So what do we do with this freedom? Well, that depends upon the refinement of our judgment. Judgments are something that we start to make once our guardians determine that we have mastered a skill, and leave us without supervision. In the worst case, that time alone is undirected: the outcomes of the child’s endeavors are never subjected to mature evaluation. His or her judgments are not refined, and the child may be tempted to destructive action. (“The devil makes work for idle hands.”) In the best case, as with children schooled at home by a permissive and constructive parent, the child makes judgments as often as possible, and receives direct feedback frequently, until his or her judgment regarding the need to have guidance becomes sufficiently refined that he or she can be trusted to seek guidance independently.

What is the basis for making judgments, and refining that capacity? It is instructive to consider the processes evolved by our culture to control the natural tyrannies.

Emotions

I’ve focused to this point on thought as the characteristic that differentiated us from other animals. But thought only helps us get where we want to go. What makes us want to go there?

Our motivations come from our emotions. Emotions form the long-term psychological context for our lives. Where thoughts flit through our mind, our emotions persist. Typically, we have predominant states that may persist for many months, with episodes of other emotions that may last from minutes to days. Compare this to the evanescence of thoughts, which last only a few seconds.

Emotions are hidden, sometimes frightening things. They arise from deep within our brain, along neural pathways that were hard-coded over millions of years to facilitate our survival and the survival of the species. Fear, lust, greed, vanity and envy. You know the lot. The drive us to be separate, to dominate and to control. And on the other hand, courage, love, compassion, humility and pride. They drive us to join, to sustain others and to sacrifice for the common good. The survival of a new-born infant depends upon them.

Emotions are dangerous when they drive us into magical thinking. Our strongest emotions occur in the course of imagining, particularly when the subject of our attention involves great psychological loss or gain. We focus on the end results – achieving the goal, or avoiding the loss – and go “tilting at windmills”. The end result can be a disastrous squandering of resources that would be better focused on more realistic means for improving our lives and our selves.

Unfortunately, our media-driven society tends to emphasize this predilection. In any large society, events occur daily that happen only once or twice in most lives. Presented with a common diet of “true-life” stories that manifest our wildest hopes and fears, the moderate diet of rationality most of us live on can be worn away.

Many of our deepest emotional experiences occur when we are children. They are powerful because we have so little control, at that age, over the circumstances in which those events occur. We have limited means for reasoning about the outcome of an event, so we simply replay it over and again in our minds. The association of an emotion with the event becomes deeply ingrained in our neural pathways. If the experience is powerful enough, any sensory our conceptual association may trigger that emotion, sometimes inappropriately.

Two common strategies are followed to control these associations. One is to suppress our emotions, denying ourselves the motive energy for sustained action. The other is to ride on those emotions, using them to drive others and us to behavioral extremes. Powerful emotions are a type of drug. They exhaust the body’s energy and eventually disorganize our thought processes. If indulged too long, we may succumb to psychological or physical collapse.

The only way out of this trap is to consciously and rationally choose different stories. This can mean changing our source of news, or watching different movies. When we have difficult stories of our own to overcome, we can make a concerted attempt to rewrite those stories – to imagine outcomes that would have occurred if we had the benefit of past experience, and to assert those as the model for our future behavior.

Mastery of this process of cerebral re-interpretation is one of the critical skills we must develop on the road to becoming a mature adult. As the skill develops, we can better harness our emotions by rapidly evaluating their relevance to our intentions. To prevent a loss of focus, we can call upon other experiences that evoke emotions more consistent with direction of our energies to the purposes we have chosen.