THE SCIENTIFIC FACTS OF HUMAN ILLUSION?

By Professor Glen Olives Thompson | Mexico News Daily

Our species is in a sense a victim of our big brains: we seek to understand, and when knowledge is unavailable we make things up and call it knowledge.

We are pattern-seekers, explainers, believers in the idea that everything happens for a reason, every effect has a cause, every problem has a solution, and that justice will be served – in this world or the next.

The fathers of modern epistemology – Hume, Kant and Schopenhauer – produced an impressive body of philosophical work that indubitably demonstrated that objects conform to our knowledge of them, and that because of our very biology, some things will remain forever unknowable to us (what Kant called the “noumenal” to differentiate it from that which is observable and discoverable by humans – the phenomenal).

To illustrate by way of analogy, a beetle might “know” Octavio Paz’s The Labyrinth of Solitude as a comfortable place to build a nest or eat its pages, but because of its biology, it will never be able to know it as the brilliant intellectual work on Mexican society and culture that it is.

And so it is with us – we can only observe what our biology will allow. Of course, unlike the beetle, we have developed a very powerful tool of apprehension called the scientific method. But even this has limitations and is often misunderstood, even by scientists.

Karl Popper showed us that nothing in science is provable through observation and that we cannot indeed even observe causation. But when science is slow in giving us easily digestible answers, we are too easily inclined to grasp for anything that might, even if the answers are spurious.

We’re not machines that operate on algorithms: we’re gloopy globs of flesh and bone and nerves with blood coursing through our veins with the same salinity of the oceans from which we came. And scientists are people too – perhaps more aware of, but nonetheless subject to, the cognitive biases inherent in our neurobiology.

glen-thompsonGlen Olives Thompson is a professor of North American Law at La Salle University in Chihuahua, a specialist in law and public policy and a regular contributor to Mexico News Daily. Some of his other nonacademic work can be viewed at glenolives.com.

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5 thoughts on “THE SCIENTIFIC FACTS OF HUMAN ILLUSION?

  1. Interesting! In his book ‘How the Mind Works ‘ Steven Pinker suggests that the human mind may not be able to penitrate all truth.
    He believes the mind is a product of natural selection and that may well limit its potential.
    Of course if we are created in the image of God with an eternal soul our powers are unlimited but the snag is we are not free to use them.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I no longer have the book just a few notes and a lasting impression, but detailed reviews and long posts are not my style. I’m 74 a retired Englishman with no higher education and no taste for long tasks.
        I would recommend Steven Pinker but ‘The Better Angels of Our Nature’ is a real tomb. He is a dedicated researcher.

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  2. Pinker is Harvard College Professor and Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. He also writes frequently for The New York Times, Time, The New Republic, and other magazines.

    Like

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