Imploding Ideas Unnoticed by Their Advocates
Fewer people would say foolish things if they noticed how ideas can refute themselves.
“There’s no such things as free will.” Stephen Cave, a “philosopher and writer in Berlin,” argues this position on The Atlantic:
In recent decades, research on the inner workings of the brain has helped to resolve the nature-nurture debate—and has dealt a further blow to the idea of free will. Brain scanners have enabled us to peer inside a living person’s skull, revealing intricate networks of neurons and allowing scientists to reach broad agreement that these networks are shaped by both genes and environment. But there is also agreement in the scientific community that the firing of neurons determines not just some or most but all of our thoughts, hopes, memories, and dreams.
His interlocutors could tease back by asking if Mr. Cave made that argument of his own choice. Did the neuroscientists choose to research what goes on in another person’s skull, without thinking about what’s going on in their own? Is their agreement about genetic and environmental determinism determined by the firing of their own neurons? Then how can they claim it is true? In their view, it would be no more true than the firing of neurons in the skull of a person who disagrees with their consensus.
“To strengthen an opinion, simply say it is based on morality: ‘Moral’ label instantly makes opinions more resistant to change.” (Science Daily). This observation may well be true; persuaders might indeed get more mileage out of their rhetoric by appeals to morality. But we must turn the question around, and ask if the psychologists from Ohio State believed it was moral (or not) to conduct their research. If so, they are not simply saying it was moral; they are presupposing that morals are more than matters of opinion or rhetoric. If not, they give us no reason to believe their research at all.
“What’s the Meaning of Life? Physics” (National Geographic). In this piece, Jeremy Berlin reviews a new book by Adrian Bejan with a self-explanatory title, The Physics of Life: The Evolution of Everything. Bejan, starting with Darwin’s view that humans are coextensive with all of nature, considers his so-called “constructal law” a purely materialistic process that generates universes, life, and minds. If so, it generates ideas, too, like this one:
Evolution is a crucial part of how we need to define efficiency. I don’t mean evolution in the Darwinian sense. I mean that there’s a universal urge or tendency toward design and organization that changes over time in a discernible, seemingly goal-oriented direction. So it would be more accurate to call these things evolutionary design and evolutionary organization. This has nothing to do with intelligent design, by the way. It’s simply treating design and evolution as two natural scientific concepts.
One must ask in response, though, if concepts are real. If they are outcomes of unguided, non-intelligent natural laws, and are always changing over time (evolving), on what basis can they be considered true? Bejan is certainly aware of opposite worldviews that see things differently. Did the constructal law produce those as well? How is he to determine which concept, then, is better, or truer, than any other?
My own thinking evolved while I was writing this book. I conclude with the idea that science itself is an evolutionary design that empowers humans. So in that way alone, I think, the Constructal Law has a lot to say—and a lot of eyes to open.
He speaks as a guru whose eyes, like the Buddha, have been enlightened. A clever debater could ask if his thinking has stopped evolving yet and reached Nirvana, and how would he know. If it is still evolving, who’s to say it might evolve into its opposite some day?
The bottom line is that many of the things that we take for granted need to be explained in a better way. As you and I know, they can disappear overnight if we take our eye off the ball. Or, worse, the ball will hit us in the face. Wake up! I say to readers. If you don’t wake up, the ball will wake you up.
Explanation implies importing truth. If truth evolves, it isn’t true any more. And explaining “in a better way” presupposes an unevolving standard: i.e., knowing which explanation is better and which is worse—not just for our culture, but for all time.
Incidentally, his definition of “physics” encompasses more than the laws of Newton or Einstein. To him, physics (Greek) and nature (Latin) refer to “everything that happens.” Well, then, his constructal law is just one of those things that happens from time to time. In that vein, here’s how he might explain physics: “Stuff Happens.” That phrase, however, is incapable of evolving, otherwise nothing would ever happen again, and the phrase would be false.
Accused of reductionism, Bejan admits, in spite of himself, that his own idea is a manifestation of the Stuff Happens Law (q.v.). Apparently, that ball has not hit him in the face yet.
There is no rational escape from the self-refuting fallacy. Your job is to recognize it when you see it and extricate those entangled in it back into the realm of rationality. Justifiable logical concepts presuppose non-evolving morality and supernaturalism. Materialism cannot supply the preconditions for intelligibility of concepts argued to be true. It defeats itself, therefore. This means it is not true, was not true, and cannot ever be true, despite any new evidence put forth in its favor. It’s like saying, “My idea is that there are no ideas.” Yes, we all need to wake up to the crazy ideas materialists and relativists are pawning as “science.”