Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Dear flg,

I have two questions for you. How does your theory about the incomprehensibility of the universe reconcile with The Big Assumption? They appear contradictory. The second question is "are you mad?" You've been jumping around from articles about Aristotle in French to posts about Paris Hilton. That's a stretch even for you.

Bristol, TN

Dear Bob:

I am but mad north-north-west; when the wind is southerly I know shit from Shinola. Wait, that's not what he said.

To answer your second question my identification of The Big Assumption, I think, follows logically from my understanding of the incomprehensibility of the universe due to the nature of the human mind's ability to interpret the world solely through the principle of cause and effect. That isn't the best sentence I've ever written.

Okay. New knowledge is discovered through cause and effect. Much of the knowledge we posses was passed down to us as facts or theories in school, through reading, etc, but the original idea and support for the idea were through cause and effect. The Big Assumption is the hubristic idea that the experiences of our individual life have provided enough data of causes and effects to permit us to comprehend The Truth.

The location where we are born and raised shapes and distorts the causes and effects that we witness. People who have only lived in urban areas their entire lives have difficulty conceiving of addressing problems, like homelessness and hunger, through any means other than the state or structured non-governmental institutions designed specifically for those purposes. However, a rural dweller might not understand why the person's church is not helping. Smaller communities have closer ties, and ideally work to help one another. Larger communities lack this communal bond.

For example, New Yorkers are proud to be New Yorkers. I love New York, and I love New Yorkers. But they don't have the same feelings toward each other that the people of a small town in Kansas do. How could they when they pass several thousand people a day on the street? Because of this lack of connection New Yorkers tend to view social problems as only solvable by government intervention. That small town in Kansas might view government intervention as an impediment or interference into what they view as a community matter.

This is not to say that either is right or wrong, but they are shaped by effects and the causes that they have observed. The causes and effects of urban versus rural living shape their perceptions of what is Truth. We all do this to some extent. The issue is when people cannot conceive that the other party could arrive at a contrary conclusion with pure motives and reason. Furthermore, the laziness of attributing new effects to familiar causes exacerbates the problem.

So, The Big Assumption is simply one obstacle to comprehending the universe, which is ultimately incomprehensible anyway. It's an obstacle that has political and public policy consequences. I find that my realization that the universe is ultimately incomprehensible renders me intellectually humble. This humility allows me to recognize that I never have all the relevant information, and therefore cannot be completely sure of my positions at all times. Dialectic helps to reinforce my beliefs, and I hold many beliefs very strongly. Nonetheless, I no longer attribute ulterior motives to every person who disagrees with me. In short, my conclusion that the universe is incomprehensible is an antidote to The Big Assumption. (It also makes me suspicious of arguments that any technocratic bureaucracy will immanentize the eschaton, or indeed solve any problem of much complexity.)

That was probably a much longer answer than you wanted.


1 comment:

C.S. Perry said...

I knew that there had to be a legitimate reason for spending so much time in the lab looking for acausal relationships.
Now I know.
Brilliant theory FLG.
I think I'll high-jack it.
Maybe I can get a reality show deal out of it.

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