My World View: Overview
Where I stand on just about everything — a summary.
- Everything that I state on this page and on any of the other pages in this section is said under the auspices of my approach to all propositions.
- I am an empiricist: I have no beliefs. That is, I have no religious beliefs, and I deprecate and avoid the use of the words “belief” and “believe” when not referring to religious belief. According to this usage, the notion of “scientific belief” is self-contradictory. A true scientist, and indeed any empiricist thinker, only holds hypotheses. See The semantics of belief.
- Careful use of terminology is essential in all intellectual discussions including this one. See for example my discussion of the terms proposition and hypothesis.
- My method for all serious thought, but particularly for philosophical thought, is as follows. Each and every proposition held in mind is tagged either as certain (by definition) or as a hypothesis; each hypothesis is held provisionally, and with some sort of credibility rating.
- For everyday purposes, such as when doing housework or shopping, one ignores the distinction between a hypothesis rating of (say) 0.8 or above and certainty (rating 1.0) most of the time. It comes into play the moment a puzzle or problem arises: all assumptions remain at all times open to question and, with the ability to give them scores, if these differ there is a ready made order in which to test them: in general, lowest scored are re-tested first. It works. [Note 1]
- I also evaluate using my rating system the propositions of other people. When anybody tells you anything, it is wise to remember that they could be wrong; most of the time, if people are wrong it is because they are mistaken, but sometimes one does have to consider that they might be lying.
- I adopt as my working hypothesis (with credibility rating perhaps between 0.8 and 0.9) the current cosmological model of the universe: 1.4 x 1010 years old, with 1011 galaxies each of 1011 stars originating in the Big Bang.
- I adopt with a similar rating the hypothesis that life evolved as described by the current scientific mainstream.
- I am aware that some physicists and astronomers have become concerned about how to explain what are called the Six Numbers, the constants which with even slightly different values would have made the universe unable to evolve life so we wouldn’t be here, and the emergence of an idea called the anthropic principle. However I am aware that other physicists and astronomers disagree with this train of thought. I know some hypothesize an infinity of iniverses in a “multiverse”, or an infinity of multiverses, and others just imagine an infinite universe, with an infinity of effective replicas of the part of the universe known to astronomy. However in all of this, I take no preferential view; but I remain confident that, the larger it all turns out to be, the more preposterous are the suggestions that any living entity created it all and that any such entity would bear even the most remote resemblance to the deities of the world’s religions as to motive, interests, wishes or desires of human behaviour.
- Creationism is perhaps the worst kind of anti-empiricist obscurantism. In my view, a creationist is as mad and pathologically ignorant as the members of the Flat Earth Society (to the extent that there are any who are not just pranksters like the Fling Spaghetti Monster people), and as the sort of conspiracy theorists who still now claim that all the NASA missions into space and, in particular, to the moon are a Hollywood style conspiracy, just as portrayed in the 1978 movie Capricorn One.
- As stated above, I have no religious beliefs. I consider the appalling record of most of the religions, particularly that of the two biggest monotheistic religions, enough to condemn them as blights on human history; and their moralities are as worthless as their theologies. [Note 2]
- All deities, spirits, sprites, fairies, angels, demons, ghosts, goblins, djinns, and other entities that are not organic life-forms within the realms of ordinary modern empirical zoology are, like the human soul, Father Christmas, and the Tooth Fairy, figments of the imagination.
I reject and deprecate the use of the words “spiritual”
and “spirituality” by anybody who is not religious
(and I ignore such talk from those who are).
Australian TV had in 2009 a
documentary on atheism
in which Mike Shermer,
a science writer and editor of Skeptic magazine, said:
People who donít believe in god are no less spiritual than those who do. I donít think religion has a monopoly on spirituality. For me, my spirituality comes from an awareness of something grander than me, than you, than us — something beyond the material world; whatever you want to call that, the beauty of nature.If these words have any meaning at all, it is in a religious context; the “spirit” is just a synonym for the “soul” and “spirituality” is just a meaningless abstraction implying some supposedly religious or quasi-religious state of mind connected with cerain experiences that many of us have from time to time. I reject these words because that whole semantic area implies that there is something religious about ecstatic experiences whereas they are actually just emotional states. The root of the words, “spirit-”, is just from the Latin for breathing, because of the primitive superstition that the breath had some mystical connection to the (actually non-existent) “soul”.
- I share with thinkers like Richard Dawkins the view that it is possible to develop a rational system of morality based not on religious belief but rather on some ideas that we might call moral-philosophical axioms, such as that which we might call the moral axiom of symmetry: put simply, if I would not like you to do something unpleasant or damaging to me, then it would be wrong of me to do that same thing to you.
However, I do not share with Dawkins and others his declared desire
to disabuse all religious believers of their illogical and baseless delusions;
I would object to anybody persistently seeking to recruit me to their point of view
on any subject which I had studied sufficiently to form an informed opinion
on which that opinion happeneed to differ from that of the said persistent person.
That is why I equally object to the drive felt by many religions to promote their religions with continual attempts to get converts. Most of all, I consider it very wrong of them to insist (as they do) on bringing up their children in their own religions, just as wrong as a father forcing his son to join him in the same trade after leaving school if the son does not wish to do so.
More about the promotion of religion
- The human species is “just another species”, with no absolute and unique difference separating it from other related species (in particular, from the great apes). All supposedly unique human characteristics are either in fact found in some form in other species (such as capacity to se language, or tools, or to solve problems) or are figments of the imaginations of deluded people (such as the “soul”).
- The mind is an abstraction, simply the functioning of the brain considered collectively — as an aggregate of the overall state and of concurrent processes.
- What is called the “soul” (even by non-religious people) is just a subset of that aggregate called the mind, named by people either with a religious mind-set or merely being intellectually lazy or using (in a hackneyed way) poetic licence. For more, see The idea of soul
- All religious experiences are merely functions, incidents or products of the mind. Attribution of any special “religious” quality to them is delusion. For more see Religious experiences.
- There is no afterlife, no heaven or hell; there are therefore no ghosts, even if such a thing were imagined to be other than the “souls” (which I have already asserted do not exist except, perhaps metaphorically or poetically, as a subset of the mind) of the dead.
Nothing of the mind (or “soul”) persists after brain death;
just as when a computer is switched off (has its power supply removed),
if brain activity has ceased the body is just so much dead meat, and
there is not even the organic equivalent of the computer’s battery-powered
clock, or settings held in CMOS memory.
The concept of residual electromagnetic signals,
sometimes adduced by “ghost hunters” and psychical researchers,
and adopted in the plot of stories such as
The Stone Tape
I regard as unproven, and as having a low probability of turning out to occur or exist.
I put a very low probability rating on the chance that cryogenics will work
or that any person who would be frozen now will have anything of their mind
(memories, skills or personality) restored if they are re-awoken at any point in the future.
They too will almost certainly be just so much defrosted dead meat.
That is not to say that I would not be intrigued to learn that it did, somehow, work and to find out what a reawoken person made of the changes in the world after such a lapse of time. However there have apparently been people who woke after a long time from a coma (in a few cases, several years), and I dare say that the experience would be very much the same as theirs.
- Consciousness, in the sense of self-consciousness/awareness, is a by-product of sufficiently high brain capacity and thereby mind complexity; there is some evidence that its possession is on a spectrum rather than binary and probably exists to a significant extent in some species other than the human.
- IQ variation is caused by several factors including genetic inheritance, prenatal and perinatal conditions and events (such as, in particular, brain oxygen status during actual birth), experiences through life, but most especially from birth onwards into childhood and at any time in life during any specific mind training (such as in lateral thinking or mind mapping).
- Most people (those with, say, an IQ from 90 to 110) probably have as little idea of what it is like to have an IQ in the top 2% (a point chosen in one sense arbitrarily, but apt because it is the criterion for Mensa) as those at the very bottom (IQ below 60) have of what it is like to be average.
I happen to have a rather high IQ, although I had no idea about this
until my mid 20s. Yet even during my childhood and youth, when I was
completely unaware of it, I can recall ways in which,
in retrospect anyway, it must have significantly affected
how I coped (often not very well) with life and interacted with other people.
On having a high IQ
- If scientific models and arguments such as that which demonstrates the evolution of animals from the amoeba to the primate (or even the humming bird and the woodpecker, favourites of creationists) have been developed by thinkers among those with the highest IQs, it is quite possible that the majority of the population with IQs below (say) 110 are simply intellectually incapable of encompassing and understanding the arguments and the process models, so that their only resort, in the desperate search for explanations (which every human mind seems to seek) for the existence of the world around us and indeed the universe, is to the imagination — and hence to religion or similar fantasy. In this sense perhaps Karl Marx was right.
- The human species has in recent times wrestled with the idea that it is the result of evolution from ancestors on a branch of the tree of animal life just next on the twig to the great apes. I am satisfied with the empirical evidence and the genetic science establishing this hypothesis with just about as much confidence as we can place in any of the most major and fundamental hypotheses of science as we stand in the first decade of the 21st century. The interest in Darwin in 2009, particularly on the BBC because the folk there love an anniversary, has reminded us all, and told some among us who never knew it before anyway, of the all-pervading implications of the evolution process for everything on the planet.
- In particular I am reminded of the many failed attempts by human beings since Darwin to identify some feature, characteristic or behaviour of human beings that is unique to our species; in each case, the notion has been voided by the discovery of some other species — some high like the gorilla, some low like the bower bird, or even the ant or the dung beetle — that also shows the behaviour. The hubris of the individuals who continue to assume that human beings are nonetheless superior in some absolute way to all other species will, I still hope, eventually be rewarded approriately by history, although of course the religions will never give up their delusion about what they call the human “soul”. Meanwhile, I hope all readers of this will remember that chimpanzees and gorillas have learnt enough of the sign language of the deaf to show they have the brains to use human language if the problem of speech organs is overcome; the octopus can be shown to be capable of recognizing matching shapes and colours and solving quite intricate puzzles; even birds have been seen exhibiting quite advanced capabilities in design and construction of somewhere either to live or to show off to one’s desired mate; and whales and dolphins have all kinds of sophisticated behaviours from vocalizations to cooperation (though wolves and lions also do that) to round up and eat prey, and even sharks seem to that to force large shoals of fish to bunch together so that they can eat them by the hundred.
- From the last point I move on to this, about the human species and what it spends its time doing. Of course we, like every animal species, need to eat; but precisely becqause every other species does it, spending any more time than is necessary on thinking about, talking about and messing about with food is in my opinion simply a lot of self-deceiving camouflage behaviour to distract people from the fact that filling their faces, on the way to their stomachs, is something evrything alive does, most of its waking life. I know bears sleep for months and don't eat then, and some of the big sea creatures so the same; but most species eat all the time unless they are mating, and eating is not a big deal. Therefore I have a message to all the gourmets and wine bibbers, the self-deluding celebrity chefs and anybody who patronizes their absurdly expensive diners — for which, incidentally, the fatuous French term “restaurant” is of course merely another aspect of the self-delusion, as though selling a person something to eat was on a par with the delicate craft of restoring antique paintings and furniture — and my message is this: It is just food! Evry dung beetle, gannet, pig, dog, cow, hyena, monkey, caterpillar and slug eats almost continually. If you spend all your time thinking about and talking about food you are only deluding yourself that you are doing anything more than those slugs, caterpillars, hunters and scavengers do. Plenty of species from birds to whales even sing. The only human activities that are a cut above what most animals can manage are things like orchestral, symphonic music, the invention and implementation (not the use, which an ape could learn) of advanced technology such as computer and telecommunications, and such things as advanced scientific research and mathematics. Anything else is just the same as the animals do, but a bit more complicated!
- The appropriate term for a practitioner of linguistics is linguistician.
- Given the current state of the English language, although it is interesting to have available the purely descriptive dictionary as represented by Oxford, presciptive dictionaries that set some kind of standard of correctness, as shared by the best educated in the world community so far as it can be discerned, are of great value; and professional communicators in the language have a duty to try to conform to the standard of correctness as much as they can.
- It is interesting to know about all the languages still in use in the world, but given the process called globalization it is a very great burden to wish upon anybody, to ask them to keep alive any language the number of users of which has so dwindled that it faced extinction. The most one can ask is that (if a linguistician is available to do so) it is desirable that the details of the language be written down before its last users are unable to explain or exhibit them.
- The tension between the standardization brought by mass media and the local or tribal customization of speech will probably continue indefinitely. More
- The best scheme of government for any nation state has a separation between the head of government and the head of state. The USA is deeply flawed in this respect, and some of its constitutional crises can be blamed on theis fact.
- France is as flawed as much as the USA, for although (unlike the USA) its constitution provides for a president and a separate prime minister, no French President de la Republique has ever remainde above politics; every one of them has behaved like the American president, treating the prime minister like a sort of administrative deputy.
- Countries that have republican constitutions and adequate separation in theory and mostly in practice between president (head of state) and prime minister (head of government) include Germany, Ireland, and Israel. Germany calls its head of government Kanzler (Chancellor) rather than prime minister but that appears to be only a historical/linguistic variation. Israel has had constitutional crises where the president has found it difficult to stay out of the politics, but things appear to run correctly there a lot of the time.
- Constitutional monarchies, in particular the UK, have the required separation but impose an appalling burden, compensated for by an almost excessive amount of personal privilege, upon the incumbent (the monarch) and n their family. Although the burden is enormous, never-ending (by tradition, except in a crisis), and defined from birth (by the rules in force at the time) many people in the country either do not perceive or do not understand this, and when asked declare that they do not see “what the royal family is for” . They see only the privilege, pomp and circumstance, therefore resent royalty, and are part of a situation which undermines the confidence of the citizenry as a whole in the way the nation is run. This is intrinsically a bad thing.
- Another bad thing in the UK is the established religion. There should be disestablishment at the earliest opportunity.
- The greatest obstacle to disestablishment is the view on it of the Queen. Her antidisestablishmentarianism is almost my only disagreement with the Queen on constitutional matters. I share the view of most people that she has served the country almost perfectly (if at major cost to her own family’s well-being).
- I hope Charles (Prince of Wales) will see that disestablishment happens early in his reign (if and) when it begins.
- Whereas I agree that the hereditary peerage is not an appropriate element
in modern government I am not in favour of an elected upper house
(arguably to be termed a senate as in France and the USA).
There are two fatal flaws in the idea:
- If members have to be elected, they will inevitably be drawn almost exclusively from politicians, that is, from a group of people whose main skill, drive, and interest in life is in getting elected and in playing party politics. This is true of some members of the House of Lords, even though they do not (while there) have to be elected; but wise, experienced, eminent people from many walks of life can also be appointed to the current Lords in Westminster and they more than any politician contribute value to what the second chamber does. They will also all be “party animals” .
- If an elected upper house is elected during a general election for the lower house (such as Britain has currently for the Commons), the same political party is likely to have a majority in both houses, so the one will be a mere rubber stamp for the other. If, on the other hand, the two houses are elected at different times and some of these result in the two houses having majorities from opposing parties, this can result in deadlock, wherein abslutely nothing can get through because everything proposed by the main house is blocked by the other. This has happened from time to time in the USA. The result is stagnation in government, and is very bad for the country.
- Although cautious about over-reliance on pharmacology in the treatment of illness, I reckon on the available evidence that for many conditions appropriate medications are the right remedy.
- Such conditions include major ones in the realm of psychiatry as well as the rest; for example, for most forms of depression I consider that resisting prescription of antidepressant medication for fear of becoming addicted to it has a high probability only of prolonging the misery. However, not all antidepressants are equal; but more detail is far beyond the scope of this page.
- On homeopathy, the empirical position is tricky. There appears sometimes to be a history of success and there is certainly a history of apparently well satisfied patients for this methodology, including (famously) members of the royal family beginning with Queen Victoria; on the ther hand, as I understand it, all attempts by orthodox medical research to explain how homeopathic treatment can actually work appear to have hitherto failed. My present position on it, therefore, reflects mainly the comparison of these two opposing strands. As biochemistry (based on chemistry, which is based on physics) is more solid empirically than the opinions even of a million satisfied patients, the appropriate rating for the proposition that homeopathy works is perhaps 0.2, and so (these two propositions being exhaustive, the numbers necessarily adding up to 1.0) the rating for saying that there is no basis for it is 0.8.
- On hypnosis, the evidence appears clear: the process is extraordinarily powerful, which only strengthens the evidence for what the mind is capable of. Its clinical use appears to have a high success rate. Such evidence increases to the exclusion of others my rating for the hypothesis that all religious and other such ecstatic experiences whether or not they follow pharmacological intervention (drug taking), are products — figments, if you like, — of the mind.
- Obviously, the fact that something, an utterance, is written down makes no difference to it as regards the credibility rating of any given proposition drawn from it. The regard for “scripture” among ancients and primitives is merely superstitious.
- The fact that somethng was written a long time ago — even when limited to the aspect of its value based on the fact that it has survived — does not of itself make it more valuable, more worth reading, more interesting except from a purely specialist historical standpoint, or better in any other way than something written yesterday. People wrote a hell of a lot of drivel as soon as writing was invented, and even more as soon as printing was,
- Doctor Samuel Johnson was a hard worker, and a man of opinions many of which were perhaps as eccentric are my own to many people; but he was not a man of particularly exceptional intellect, just one who managed to complete (after a fashion) the first example of an arguably almost complete dictionary of contemporary English.
- Most readable fiction is either crime or science, what is called “genre” by the snooty. The plain English literary novel is almost always a navel-gazing waste of time. More
- The vast majority of books that are worth reading are non-fiction, and yet many (probably most) literary people (the novelists and Eng Lit academics of this world) ignore everything except novels themselves and their own volumes of literary criticism. The most irritating case of semantic abuse in the world is not (for example) people saying “England” when they mean “Great Britain” or “the UK”; it is these people saying “book” when they mean “novel”! More
- The fact that somebody who calls himself an artist says that something is art does not necessarily make that something art. It has to have some other quality too.
- I do not claim here that a “qualifying quality” (if that is not pleonasm) is unique; there is a set of such qualities with several members. However, defining precisely what these are is non-trivial (and this is mathematician-speak for really very tricky, possibly very difficult indeed and, again, “possibly” extremely subtle too). This view might be unexpected, but I can defend it.
- I like many kinds of music from the Baroque era through true classical (the era of Beethoven) to the late 20th century, but I do not really like the “serious” modernists much of pop or rock music and the many (to me often indistinguishable) supposed genres thereof — I dislike more or less anything played on Radio 1 or Never Mind the Buzzcocks, really. Details
- Watching people dancing, whatever the style (ballet, ballroom, disco, flamenco, ...), does nothing for me at all. Only, at one time years ago when I lived in Paris, tap dancing attracted me enough to try it. If I am wearing leather shoes with hard enough soles on a hard smooth floor and with time to spare, I still occasionally try to tap a little. But I wouldn’t want to watch me or expect anyone else to want to.
- I did a bit of acting; and I suppose that in some sense I “ought” to like theatre more than I do. I find the business of going to a theatre in the evening, the cost, and the limitations of the medium for storytelling, all count against it compared to the movies. COnsequently I have not been to the theatre for many years; I attended a performance of the February 2008 Opera South staged production at Haslemere Hall, which is very far from ideal both in its auditorium and in its shallow stage and extremely inadequate backstage space. I cannot remember going to a play in any proper theatre for many years, except for one performance at the Apollo on Shaftesbury Avenue, London, in 2001 of Neil Simon’s The Female Odd Couple starring Jenny Seagrove.
- I like movies more than theatre, firstly because of the realism of story telling and the modern special effects that realize the impossible, and secondly because I watch almost all the many movies I see at home on television and that does not apply to the theatre, by definition. The first of these is important because I mainly like fantasy and science fiction stories, and failing that a certain type of comedy, or action adventure with happy endings. My movie tastes
- I never identified myself by the work I did in my own mind, only to other people where they wanted that as some sort of handle. In recent years, in my fifties, I gave up the conventional work in industry that I had done for almost 30 years. I am very lucky to have been able to, and very happy now as an artist, even at a time when I am not doing very much work. Fuller story
Belief, hypothesis and the evaluation of propositions
The origins of the universe and of life on Earth
Religions, religious beliefs, and the “supernatural”See main article: My World View: Religion
The human condition and the mind
Religion and the mind
Death and “afterlife”
The human species and evolution
The everyday life of humans
Politics and the British constitution
Health and medicine
Of course, to the extent that I still spend some of my time as webmaster of several sites, this skill is still useful in the IT sphere. It’s also useful in every aspect of my work crating art, and all sorts of activities in home and garden maintenance, and dealing with news and events of all kinds.
However, the moment anything causes me to question anything, instead of being flustered, easily fooled, or thrown into confusion or turmoil, I simply go back into empirical mode and re-evaluate the relevant observations, raising until any anomaly is better understood the rating value above which I ignore the difference between that value and 1.0. For example I might raise that value to 0.95 or 0.99, so that all values below that are open to further reduction, which means that the relevant hypotheses are open to downgrading (meaning I am less confident about them) in the light of any new data.