Saturday, August 8, 2009

Transcending human nature through science.

Here is Steven Pinker in the Preface to his book The Stuff of Thought (the emphasis is mine):

There is a theory of space and time embedded in the way we use words. There is a theory of matter and a theory of causality, too. Our language has a model of sex in it (actually, two models), and conceptions of intimacy and power and fairness. Divinity, degradation, and danger are also ingrained in our mother tongue, together with a conception of well-being and a philosophy of free will. These conceptions vary in their details from language to language, but their overall logic is the same. They add up to a distinctively human model of reality, which differs in major ways from the objective understanding of reality eked out by our best science and logic.

I love that last sentence. It is a neat summary of the philosophical assumptions of the contemporary philosophy of mind. There is the distinction between "a distinctively human model of reality" - to be taken with a grain of salt, for it is only "a" model among many possible models - and "the objective understanding of reality" given by science and logic, which suffers from none of the unfortunate drawbacks of the human condition and its models, transcending human nature entirely as the objective understanding of reality. There is the easy confidence that never wonders who or what it is that understands this "objective understanding" when it is understood, or wonders how an "objective understanding" saves itself from being oxymoronic, since an understanding is only an understanding if it is understood by someone and therefore is subjective; or wonders how we mere men can understand an "objective understanding" without it becoming a human model. There is the hint of a further perspective beyond both the human model and the objective understanding, the perspective that allows us to compare the lesser two perspectives and determine in just what "major ways" the human model differs from the objective understanding. Finally, there is the strange innocence that fails to notice that whatever we understand and do must happen in and through our own nature, and so reference to "the objective understanding of reality" is itself an expression of human nature and so destroys the distinction of which it is a part.

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