3.242 uncertainty, etc., cont. (139)
Willard McCarty (MCCARTY@VM.EPAS.UTORONTO.CA)
Wed, 12 Jul 89 21:08:08 EDT
Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 242. Wednesday, 12 Jul 1989.
(1) Date: Tue, 11 Jul 89 23:31 EST (12 lines)
Subject: Coping with Copenhaggen
(2) Date: Wed, 12 Jul 89 12:21 EDT (108 lines)
Subject: Uncertainty, etc.
Date: Tue, 11 Jul 89 23:31 EST
Subject: Coping with Copenhaggen
I have been unable to find any references which
explain EXACTLY what the Copenhaggen interpretation
of quantum mechanics is. Several refs. said things
like Bohr was the originator of this interp., and
talked about the observer/observed relationship,
but they never pinned down just what the interpretaion
was. Any suggestions? (Besides learning to spell etc.)
dan evens <evens@utorphys>
Date: Wed, 12 Jul 89 12:21 EDT
Subject: Uncertainty, etc.
Uncertainty about the intellectual value of intellect
Intellectuals like to read, write, and talk, among other things. One of
the hazards of intellectualizing is clouding issues in pretentious jargon. Let
me try, in a neutral and jargon-free manner as possible, pose the question that
has been discussed here in a rather confrontational manner. Is the current,
intellectual culture fraught with a fundamentally anti-intellectual approach?
Usually anti-intellectuals are people who try to avoid reading, writing,
and talking about intellectual matters. One of the reasons may be just a
simple lack of interest. However, another reason is a definite distate and
antipathy towards intellectual matters and intellectuals. Remember the slogan
of a former U.S. Vice-President, "effete intellectuals". Unfortunately, I have
found, or more correctly, I have proposed the fallible hypothesis that
intellectual culture, itself, and to its own detriment, has an
anti-intellectual attitude. One of the ways to determine whether intellectuals
do have this attitude is to examine how intellectuals value their own products
and their own efforts at intellectual understanding. The question to ask
is--how do intellectuals, in general, confront the chief issue of their
The chief issue for an intellectual, at one time or other, in the
intellectual's life time, is whether reading, writing, and talking get the
goods that an intellectual might expect.
One of the goods, apart from some form of income rewarding labour in our
'information economy', is an improved understanding of issues that one had
prior to reading, writing, and talking. Of course intellectuals are
fallible. However, we may wonder whether the universe that we explore is just
a product of minds or is real. True, we may never get hold of the final
answer, but do we in any way, and in any sense, get somewhat closer to reality
by our fallible efforts at using our intellects?
This some people treat as an open question, and perhaps fundamentally
unanswerable, but still worth asking, and reading, writing, and talking about.
Other people write the question off as not worth asking just because it may be
unanswerable. And some other people hold it as virtually axiomatic that the
answer is no-- the only things our minds can do is create illusions for it to
study, including the illusion of a physical world.
Are people who hold the products of intellect to be in some fundamental
manner illusory, and hold that all we can do by way of reading, writing, and
talking is to construct fictional interpretations that do not gain any foothold
either on physical or mental life, anti-intellectual?
Let me explain why I think that people, who may enjoy reading, writing and
talking, and may be quite fine and honest people in all matters, are deluding
themselves when they think that they are not anti-intellectual when denying the
effectiveness of mind to gain some foothold on the real world. I am sure at
some time or other one has hired the services of a lawyer, accountant,
carpenter, or optician, or some other professional who hates his or her work.
This person feels totally disatisfied, and reveals that he or she is only in it
for external rewards, such as status, money, or good holidays. This person,
obviously, does not gain satisfaction through their work, but seeks other means
for gaining self-satisfaction-- another part-time occupation, or a hobby.
After many years of working at the hated job the person only looks to
retirement as the means of escape. You may wonder, well why wait for
retirement. Why doesn't this disatisfied person look for another occupation?
What holds this person to a job that is so personally distatesful? It may be
that the external rewards, the side benefits, outweigh the intrinsic
detriments. It may be that the person actually seeks a form of
self-punishment. For whatever reason the person persists working in an
occupation loathsome to that person, you find that the person is actually
undermining his or her profession. They may not perform as well as they
could. And worse, you may find that the person gossips about those who think
highly of the profession, and tries to convince you that those people are
really silly, narrow-minded, short-sighted and are really inferior types of
humanity. In short, after many years of self-forced labour in an occupation
that one despises, one tacitly joins the ranks of those who may be outside the
profession but who share the same dim view of the profession. Suppose after
much survey of one profession, say law, that one found that most lawyers hate
law, and share the attitudes of those outside the legal profession who think
that lawyers are con-artists. I, for one, would agree with the hypothetical
surveyer of the legal profession that the culture of the legal profession is
To what end do humanists assist in the self-evolution of mind? Is it to
gain an objective understanding of the real situation of humans in a cosmos
that is an objective reality? Or, is it to assist in the self-evolution of a
self-perpetuating game that has no other meaning than the game itself? How one
answers these questions, whether explicitly or implicitly through one's
valuation of the products and processes of intellectual labour, one indicates
whether one is anti-intellectual or not.
One of the other signs of anti-intellectualism is how one engages in
intellectual debate. For instance, one device of the witting and unwitting
anti-intellectual is to define one's alternatives and the supposed position of
one's interlocutor in a very limited manner. Specifically, there are
non-Platonist and non 'naive-realist' alternatives to anti-realism. To
identify realism with Platonism or naive-realism is to overly limit the
discussion of realism and objectivity, and is a form of intellectual cheating.
One takes the weakest form of the alternative theory, identifies it as the only
alternative, and then claims an easy victory. One cheats oneself, for the
questionable benefit of self-satisfaction, by not examining the full range of
alternatives and by hiding one's view from open criticism. One also does
damage to the intellectual status of the activity of dialogue by undermining
that forum of intellectual pursuit for those who do value the activity of
dialogue as a means for contributing to the growth of objective knowledge.
Another tact of the witting and unwitting anti-intellectual is to provide
mythological histories. Comprehension and appreciation of difficult issues are
inhibited by providing histories of a complex debate which omit alternative
positions, and which lead up to the desired position as the supposed victor of
the debate. By the way, some of the realist and objectivist alternatives to
naive realism and Platonism are the critical realism of Popper, Einstein, and
Piaget; the Absolute Idealism of various Hegelians, including Hegel, and
Bradley; and the dialectical materialism of various Marxists, including Marx
and L. Vygotsky.