Memes that define the virtues of science and behaviors that we should emulate.
Folksonomies: enlightenment science virtue
The values of science and tha values of democracy are concordant, in many cases indistinguishable. Science confers power on anyone who takes the trouble to learn it. Science thrives on the free exchange of ideas; its values are antithetical to secrecy. Science holds to no special vantage points or privileged positions. Both science and democracy encourage unconventional opinions and vigorous debate. Both demand adeguate reason, coherent argument, rigorous standards of evidence and honesty. Science is a baloney detector, a way to call the bluff of those who only pretend to knowledge. The more widespread its language, rules, and methods, the better chance we have of preserving what Jefferson and his colleagues had in mind. But democracy can also be subverted more thoroughly with the tools of science than any pra-industrial demagogue ever dreamed
[Of her] Her statistics were more than a study, they were indeed her religion. For her Quetelet was the hero as scientist, and the presentation copy of his Physique sociale is annotated by her on every page. Florence Nightingale believed—and in all the actions of her life acted upon that belief—that the administrator could only be successful if he were guided by statistical knowledge. The legislator—to say nothing of the politiciantoo often failed for want of this knowledge. Nay, she went further; she held that the universe—including human communities—^was evolving in accordance with a divine plan; that it was man's business to endeavour to understand this plan and guide his actions in sympathy with it. But to understand God's thoughts, she held we must study statistics, for these are the measure of His purpose. Thus the study of statistics was for her a religious duty.
The Man of Science ought not to look at, or respect, any thing but the discovery and propagation of truth. Instead of respecting mischievous and erroneous establishments, he, of all men, is bound, by every honourable tie, to make an exposure of them, and to teach the people right from wrong. His knowledge and discoveries should be like the benefits of Nature dispensed alike to all without price or reward. He ought to be the patron of truth, and the enemy of error, in whatever shape it might appear, or whatever effect it might produce. Like Nature herself, he should be no respecter of persons or of things individually but collectively.
1. Recognize the connections of things and the laws of conduct of men so that you may know what you are doing.
2. Let your acts be directed toward a worthy goal but do not ask if they will reach it; they are to be models and examples, not a means to an end.
3. Speak to all men as you do to yourself, with no concern for the effect you make, so that you do not shut them out from your world, lest in isolation the meaning of life slips out if sight and you lose the belief in the perfection of the creation.
4. Do not destroy what you cannot create.
5. Touch no dish except that you are hungry.
6. Do not covet what you cannot have.
7. Do not lie without need.
8. Honor children. Listen reverently to their words and speak to them with infinite love.
9. Do your work for six years; but in the seventh go into solitude or among strangers so that the memory of your friends does not hinder you from being what you have become.
10. Lead your life with a gentle hand and be ready to leave whenever you are called.
Making an evidence presentation is a moral act as well as an intellectual activity. To maintain standards of quality, relevance, and integrity for evidence, consumers of presentations should insist that presenters be held intellectually and ethically responsible for what they show and tell. Thus consuming a presentation is also an intellectual and a moral activity.
"Oh... there aren't many people who know how to do true science - understanding something for the very first time, even if it confuses the hell out of you. Help would be helpful."
Draco stared at Harry with his mouth open.
"But make no mistake, Draco, true science really isn't like magic, you can't just do it and walk away unchanged like learning how to say the words of a new spell. The power comes with a cost, a cost so high that most people refuse to pay it."
Draco nodded at this as though, finally, he'd heard something he could understand. "And that cost?"
"Learning to admit you're wrong."
"Um," Draco said after the dramatic pause had stretched on for a while. "You going to explain that?"
"Trying to figure out how something works on that deep level, the first ninety-nine explanations you come up with are wrong. The hundredth is right. So you have to learn how to admit you're wrong, over and over and over again. It doesn't sound like much, but it's so hard that most people can't do science. Always questioning yourself, always taking another look at things you've always taken for granted," like having a Snitch in Quidditch, "and every time you change your mind, you change yourself."
I had not a dispute but a disquisition with Dilke, upon various subjects; several things dove-tailed in my mind, and at once it struck me what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in Literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously - I mean Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason - Coleridge, for instance, would let go by a fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the Penetralium of mystery, from being incapable of remaining content with half-knowledge. This pursued through volumes would perhaps take us no further than this, that with a great poet the sense of Beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates all consideration.
The things to do are: the things that need doing: that you see need to be done, and that no one else seems to see need to be done. Then you will conceive your own way of doing that which needs to be done—that no one else has told you to do or how to do it. This will bring out the real you that often gets buried inside a character that has acquired a superficial array of behaviors induced or Try making experiments of anything j^
Try making experiments of anything you conceive and are intensely inter¬ ested in. Don't be disappointed if something doesn't work. That is what you nations of things. Some combinations have such logic and integrity that they can work coherently despite non-working elements embracpd hv tu^it- cvetem can work coherently despite non-working elements embraced by their system.
Whenever you come to a word with which you are not familiar, find it in the dictionary and write a sentence which uses that new word. Words are tools—and once you have learned how to use a tool you will never forget it. Just looking for the meaning of the word is not enough. If your vocabulary is comprehensive, you can comprehend both fine and large patterns of experience.
You have what is most important in life—initiative.
The expression of empathy in humans requires that individuals have the proper experiences growing up. If children never witness adults behaving with respect tow)ward others, they are unlikely to learn how to do so themselves. Empathy, like most human traits. arises through a combination of our biological potential and our environmental influences. For that reason, groups of people can show wide variation in their emphatic style, and the expression of it within any single group can change significantly over time.
With some exceptions, Western religions have not emphasized empathy. They are prescriptive. They impose codes of behavior based on injunctions from supreme authority, not based on the give-and-take of human interactions. Western religions define proper behavior by analogizing human nature with the behavior of mythological figures who have supernatural powers. For example, people are supposed to behave like the saints or Jesus if they want to be admired members of a Christian community. Codes of conduct, therefore, emerge from the supernatural realm and are not to be questioned by mere mortals.
Science, in contrast, is based solidly on empathy. It posits a shared experience of the world, because, otherwise, how could we agree on explanations for, and verification of, natural phenomena? More deeply, it finds and celebrates in humans a capacity to learn about the world and share our experiences through reason, logic, language, music, and art.
The capacity for empathy enables us to organize our societies in beneficial ways. Because we can see at least some aspects of ourselves in one another, we can derive ways of acting that are good for us and for society as a whole. But in order for this to occur, we have to be open to accepting other people's experiences as equally valid to our own. This is simply impossible if prescriptive codes are too strictly enforced, particularly if those codes are underlain by the unverifiable "truths" of the supernatural realm. Empathy is the best basis for human ethics that we have. It provides a solid foundation for strong personal relationships and a productive society.
Perhaps the essence of the Liberal outlook could be summed up in a new decalogue, not intended to replace the old one but only to supplement it.
The Ten Commandments that, as a teacher, I should wish to promulgate, might be set forth as follows:
All interpretations made by a scientist are hypotheses, and all hypotheses are tentative. They must forever be tested and they must be revised if found to be unsatisfactory. Hence, a change of mind in a scientist, and particularly in a great scientist, is not only not a sign of weakness but rather evidence for continuing attention to the respective problem and an ability to test the hypothesis again and again.
My practice as a scientist is atheistic. That is to say, when I set up an experiment I assume that no god, angel or devil is going to interfere with its course; and this assumption has been justified by such success as I have achieved in my professional career. I should therefore be intellectually dishonest if I were not also atheistic in the affairs of the world.
Scientific modes of thought cannot be developed and become generally accepted unless people renounce their primary, unreflecting, and spontaneous attempt to understand all their experience in terms of its purpose and meaning for themselves. The development that led to more adequate knowledge and increasing control of nature was therefore, considered from one aspect, also a development toward greater self-control by men.
We cannot hope to build a better world without improving the individual. Toward this end, each of us must work for his own highest development, accepting at the same time his share of responsibility in the general life of humanity—our particular duty being to aid those to whom we think we can be most useful.
It does happen. I have previously told the story of a respected elder statesman of the Zoology Department at Oxford when I was an undergraduate. For years he had passionately believed, and taught, that the Golgi Apparatus (a microscopic feature of the interior of cells) was not real: an artefact, an illusion. Every Monday afternoon it was the custom for the whole department to listen to a research talk by a visiting lecturer. One Monday, the visitor was an American cell biologist who presented completely convincing evidence that the Golgi Apparatus was real. At the end of the lecture, the old man strode to the front of the hall, shook the American by the hand and said - with passion - 'My dear fellow, I wish to thank you. I have been wrong these fifteen years.' We clapped our hands red. No fundamentalist would ever say that. In practice, not all scientists would. But all scientists pay lip service to it as an ideal - unlike, say, politicians who would probably condemn it as flip-flopping. The memory of the incident I have described still brings a lump to my throat.
Vulnerable, like all men, to the temptations of arrogance, of which intellectual pride is the worst, he [the scientist] must nevertheless remain sincere and modest, if only because his studies constantly bring home to him that, compared with the gigantic aims of science, his own contribution, no matter how important, is only a drop in the ocean of truth.
The traditional boundaries between various fields of science are rapidly disappearing and what is more important science does not know any national borders. The scientists of the world are forming an invisible network with a very free flow of scientific information - a freedom accepted by the countries of the world irrespective of political systems or religions. ... Great care must be taken that the scientific network is utilized only for scientific purposes - if it gets involved in political questions it loses its special status and utility as a nonpolitical force for development.
Where did the primal seed of the big bang come from? How did life begin? How did monarch butterflies evolve the ability to navigate to their winter home? God did it, says the believer. I don't know, says the agnostic. The two statements have exactly the same explanatory value. Zero.
Why then opt for one rather than the other? The first provides an illusion of understanding, and reinforces the ancient belief in a personal divinity who attends to our individual lives. The second is a goad to curiosity, and leaves open the possibility of greater future understanding. Which path we pick may reflect an innate preference for security or risk.
One way of dealing with errors is to have friends who are willing to spend the time necessary to carry out a critical examination of the experimental design beforehand and the results after the experiments have been completed. An even better way is to have an enemy. An enemy is willing to devote a vast amount of time and brain power to ferreting out errors both large and small, and this without any compensation. The trouble is that really capable enemies are scarce; most of them are only ordinary. Another trouble with enemies is that they sometimes develop into friends and lose a great deal of their zeal. It was in this way the writer lost his three best enemies. Everyone, not just scientists, needs a good few enemies.
But Davy wished to make even bigger, philosophical claims for the scientific spirit and imagination. Drawing on his previous exchanges with Coleridge about the ‘hopeful’ nature of scientific progress, he put before his audience a vision of human civilisation itself, brought into being by the scientific drive to enquire and create. Science had woken and energised mankind from his primal ignorance and ‘slumber’. This was in effect Davy’s version of the Prometheus myth: ‘Man, in what is called a state of nature, is a creature of almost pure sensation. Called into activity only by positive wants, his life is passed either in satisfying the cravings of the common appetites, or in apathy, or in slumber. Living only in moments he calculates little on futurity. He has no vivid feelings of hope, or thoughts of permanent and powerful actions. And unable to discover causes, he is either harassed by superstitious dreams, or quietly and passively submissive to the mercy of nature and the elements.’
But once woken by science, man is capable of ‘connecting hope with an infinite variety of ideas’. He can provide for his basic needs, and anticipate future enjoyments. Above all science enables him to shape his future, actively. ‘It has bestowed on him powers which may almost be called creative; which have enabled him to modify and change the beings surrounding him, and by his experiments to interrogate nature with power, not simply as a scholar, passive and seeking only to understand her operations, but rather as a master, active with his own instruments.’
Davy announced to his spellbound audience that they were witnessing the dawn of ‘a new science’, and it would be wonderful: ‘The dim and uncertain twilight of discovery, which gave to objects false or indefinite appearances, has been succeeded by the steady light of truth, which has shown the external world in its distinct forms, and in its true relations to human powers. The composition of the atmosphere, and the properties of gases, have been ascertained; the phenomenon of electricity has been developed; the lightnings have been taken from the clouds; and lastly, a new influence has been discovered, which has enabled man to produce from combinations of dead matter effects which were formerly occasioned only by animal organs.’
Davy was deliberately proposing a revolutionary view of science, and for a moment his audience must have believed that the wild young man from Bristol was going to propose political revolution as well. Banks, and others in the front row of the theatre, held their breath when Davy launched into the following declaration: ‘The guardians of civilization and of refinement, the most powerful and respected members of society, are daily growing more attentive to the realities of life; and, giving up many of their unnecessary enjoyments in consequence of the desire to be useful, are becoming the friends and protectors of the labouring part of the community.’ What French, insurrectionary sentiment would follow from Beddoes’s erstwhile protégé?
Science did not deal in extravagant republican dreams, utopian nonsense, or dangerous French political abstractions. It was plain, reasonable, empirical, patriotic: ‘In this view we do not look to distant ages, or amuse ourselves with brilliant, though delusive dreams concerning the infinite improveability of man, the annihilation of labour, disease, and even death. But we reason by analogy with simple facts. We consider only a state of human progression arising out of its present condition. We look for a time that we may reasonably expect, for a bright day of which we already behold the dawn.’
But this was not quite all. Davy’s final claim for science was an extra ordinary one, and must have much struck Coleridge. Science was psychologically, even spiritually, therapeutic. ‘It may destroy diseases of the imagination, owing to too deep a sensibility; and it may attach the affections to objects, permanent, important, and intimately related to the interests of the human species.’ The value of science was, in this sense, universal, ‘even to persons of powerful minds’, whose primary interests were ‘literary, political or moral’. It strengthened the habit of ‘minute discrimination’, and encouraged a language of ‘simple facts’. But perhaps Coleridge would have felt that Davy was on less certain ground when he added that science tended ‘to destroy the influence of terms connected only with feeling’.
There are things that not even the best scientists of today can explain. But that doesn't mean we should block off all investigation by resorting to phoney 'explanations' invoking magic or the supernatural, which don't actually explain at all. Just imagine how a medieval man - even the most educated man of his era - would have reacted if he had seen a jet plane, a laptop computer, a mobile telephone or a satnav device. He would probably have called them supernatural, miraculous. But these devices are now commonplace; and we know how they work, for people have built them:, following scientific principles. There never was a need to invoke magic or miracles or the supernatural, and we now see that the medieval man would have been wrong to do so.
The more you think about it, the more you realize that the very idea of a supernatural miracle is nonsense. If something happens that appears to be inexplicable by science, you can safely conclude one of two things. Either it didn't really happen (the observer was mistaken, or was lying, or was tricked); or we have exposed a shortcoming in present-day science. If present-day science encounters an observation, or an experimental result, that it cannot explain, then we should not rest until we have improved our science so that it can provide an explanation. If it requires a radically new kind of science, a revolutionary science so strange that old scientists scarcely recognize it as science at all, that's fine too. It's happened before. But don't ever be lazy enough defeatist enough - to say 'It must be supernatural' or 'It must be a miracle'. Say instead that it's a puzzle, it's strange, it's a challenge that we should rise to. Whether we rise to the challenge by questioning the truth of the observation, or by expanding our science in new and exciting directions, the proper and brave response to any such challenge is to tackle it head-on. And, until we have found a proper answer to the mystery it's perfectly OK simply to say. 'This is something we don't yet understand. but we're working on it.' Indeed, it is the only honest thing to do.
Philosophers and theologians have yet to learn that a physical fact is as sacred as a moral principle. Our own nature demands from us this double allegiance.
Of course, we can combine natural history study with gardening, hunting, owning pets, and other pursuits that keep us close to the earth. The more such activities, the better, in terms of a full, rich, characterbuilding relationship to nature. But natural history study provides training in another key environmental virtue that the others do not: leaving things alone. The sportsman’s code prohibits wasting meat from the animals killed, the organic gardener’s ethics proscribe unsustainable or wasteful practices. These are necessary lessons and these activities habituate them wonderfully. But gardening and hunting cannot fully teach restraint in our engagement with nature, for obvious reasons. The naturalist knows nature on its own terms. His goal is to see and understand animals and plants without disturbing, changing, taming, or otherwise constraining them. In an ever more crowded, manipulative, human-dominated world, restraint is an absolutely crucial environmental virtue. Without restraint, we lose wild nature, and environmentalism becomes just another movement to make the world a little safer for humanity. The best way to habituate this is to study and appreciate wild nature as is.
Anthropocentrism isn’t just a faulty value system, but also a faulty way of understanding the world. Modern science has shown this, displacing human beings from the center of the universe, opening up immense vistas of space and time, telling a story of life in which chance, not destiny, has raised an unusual primate to dominance for a short time on a tiny planet in one insignificant corner of the universe. We know this, of course. But our daily experience tends to contradict it, as we walk through landscapes of artifacts which reflect back our own purposes. Our natural self-centeredness and the places we live in conspire to keep us anchored in a foolish anthropocentrism.
Traditionally, wisdom is the crown of the virtues. John Kekes defines wisdom as “a form of understanding that unites a reflective attitude and practical concern,” aiming “to understand the fundamental nature of reality and its significance for living a good life.”27 Wisdom involves knowledge of what is most important in life, but mere knowledge is not wisdom, which includes living a life in accordance with this knowledge. Conceptions of wisdom vary, yet on most accounts wisdom involves placing ourselves in proper perspective, knowing our opportunities and limits, and appreciating the larger world we inhabit.
Natural history study helps us accomplish this. It’s quotidian joys-identifying a new flower, hearing the first returning spring warbler – teach us to appreciate the commonplace. At the same time, it widens our horizons and reveals the immense diversity of life. Perhaps most important studying nature helps us see ourselves in deep, evolutionary time in a world that does not revolve around us. In all these ways naturalizing defeats anthropocentrism – a key impediment to wisdom.
Science is different from many another human enterprise - not, of course, in its practitioners' being influenced by the culture they grew up in, nor in sometimes being right and sometimes wrong (which are common to every human activity), but in its passion for framing testable hypotheses, in its search for definitive experiments that confirm or deny ideas, in the vigour of its substantive debate, and in its willingness to abandon ideas that have been found wanting. If we were not aware of our own limitations, though, if we were not seeking further data, if we were unwilling to perform controlled experiments, if we did not respect the evidence, we would have very little leverage in our quest for the truth. Through opportunism and timidity we might then be buffeted by every ideological breeze, with nothing of lasting value to hang on to.
...science is part and parcel humility. Scientists do not seek to impose their needs and wants on Nature, but instead humbly interrogate Nature and take seriously what they find. We are aware that revered scientists have been wrong. We understand human imperfection. We insist on independent and - to the extent possible - quantitative verification of proposed tenets of belief. We are constantly prodding, challenging, seeking contradictions or small, persistent residual errors, proposing alternative explanations, encouraging heresy. We give our highest rewards to those who convincingly disprove established beliefs.
There is much that science doesn't understand, many mysteries still to be resolved. In a Universe tens of billions of light years across and some ten or fifteen billion years old, this may be the case forever. We are constantly stumbling on surprises. Yet some New Age and religious writers assert that scientists believe that 'what they find is all there is'. Scientists may reject mystic revelations for which there is no evidence except somebody's say-so, but they hardly believe their knowledge of Nature to be complete.
Science is far from a perfect instrument of knowledge. It's just the best we have. In this respect, as in many others, it's like democracy. Science by itself cannot advocate courses of human action, but it can certainly illuminate the possible consequences of alternative courses of action.
The scientific way of thinking is at once imaginative and disciplined. This is central to its success. Science invites us to let the facts in, even when they don't conform to our preconceptions. It counsels us to carry alternative hypotheses in our heads and see which best fit the facts. It urges on us a delicate balance between no-holds-barred openness to new ideas, however heretical, and the most rigorous sceptical scrutiny of everything - new ideas and established wisdom. This kind of thinking is also an essential tool for a democracy in an age of change.
One of the reasons for its success is that science has built-in, error-correcting machinery at its very heart. Some may consider this an overbroad characterization, but to me every time we exercise self-criticism, every time we test our ideas against the outside world, we are doing science. When we are self-indulgent and uncritical, when we confuse hopes and facts, we slide into pseudoscience and superstition.
Every time a scientific paper presents a bit of data, it's accompanied by an error bar - a quiet but insistent reminder that no knowledge is complete or perfect. It's a calibration of how much we trust what we think we know. If the error bars are small, the accuracy of our empirical knowledge is high; if the error bars are large, then so is the uncertainty in our knowledge. Except in pure mathematics nothing is known for certain (although much is certainly false).
Moreover, scientists are usually careful to characterize the veridical status of their attempts to understand the world - ranging from conjectures and hypotheses, which are highly tentative, all the way up to laws of Nature which are repeatedly and systematically confirmed through many interrogations of how the world works. But even laws of Nature are not absolutely certain. There may be new circumstances never before examined - inside black holes, say, or within the electron, or close to the speed of light - where even our vaunted laws of Nature break down and, however valid they may be in ordinary circumstances, need correction.
Humans may crave absolute certainty; they may aspire to it; they may pretend, as partisans of certain religions do, to have attained it. But the history of science - by far the most successful claim to knowledge accessible to humans - teaches that the most we can hope for is successive improvement in our understanding, learning from our mistakes, an asymptotic approach to the Universe, but with the proviso that absolute certainty will always elude us.
First, of course, comes independence, in observation and thence in thought. I once told an audience of school-children that the world would never change if they did not contradict their elders. J was chagrined to find next morning that this axiom outraged their parents. Yet it is the basis of the scientific method. A man must see, do and think things for himself, in the face of those who are sure that they have already been over all that ground. In science, there is no substitute for independence.
Independence, originality, and therefore dissent: these words show the progress, they stamp the character of our civilization as once they did that of Athens in flower. From Luther in 1517 to Spinoza grinding lenses, from Huguenot weavers and Quaker ironmasters to the Puritans founding Harvard, and from Newton's religious heresies to the calcu¬ lated universe of Eddington, the profound movements of history have been begun by unconforming men. Dissent is the native activity of the scientist, and it has got him into a good deal of trouble in the last ten years. But if that is cut off, what is left will not be a scientist. And I doubt whether ^t will be a man. For dissent is also native in any society which is still growing. Has there ever been a society which has died of dissent? Several have died of conformity in our lifetime.
Dissent is not itself an end; it is the surface mark ot a deeper value. Dissent is the mark k of freedom, as originality is the mark of indej>endence of mind. And as originality and independence are private needs for the existence of a science, so dissent and freedom are its public needs. No one can be a scientist, even in private, if he does not have independence of observation and of thought. But if in addition science is to become effective as a public practice, it must go further; it must protect independence. Tf^'he safeguards which it must offer are patent: free inquiry, free thought, free speech, tolerance. These values are so familiar to us, yawning our way through political perorations, that th^ey seem self-evident. But they are self-evident, that is, they are logical I needs, only where men are committed to explore the truth: in a scientific society. These freedoms (5 of tolerance have never been notable in a dogmatic society, even i when the dogma was Christian. They have been granted only when scientific thought flourished once before, in the youth of Greece.
The society of scientists must be a democracy.® It can keep alive and grow only by a constant tension between dissent and respect; between independence from the views of Others, and tolerance for them. The crux of the ethical problem is to fuse these, the private and the public needs. Tolerance alone is not enough; this is why the bland, kindly civilizations of the East, where to contradict is a personal affront, developed no strong science. And independence is not enough either: the sad history of genetics, still torn to¬ day by the quarrels of sixty years ago, shows that.*^ Every scientist has to learn the hard lesson, to respect the views of the next man—even when the next man is tactless enough to express them.
Tolerance among scientists cannot be based on indifference, it must be based on respect. Respect as a personal value implies, in any society, the public acknowledgements of justice and of due honor. These are values which to the layman seem most remote from any abstract study. Justice, honor, the respect of man for man: What, he asks, have these human values to do with science? The question is a foolish survival of those nineteenth-century quarrels which always came back to equate ethics with the Book of Genesis. If critics in the past had ever looked practically to see how a science develops, they would not have asked such a question. Science confronts the work of one man with that of without justice and honor anH rpsnprt bptwppn man and without justice and honor and respect between man and man. Only by these means can science pursue its steadfast object, to explore truth. If these values did not exist, then the society of scientists would have to invent them to make the practice of science possible. In societies where these values did not exist, science has had to create them.
This is, in fact the critical discovery of science. That we often perceive what we expect or want to perceive, often at variance with what is objectively true. The Cro Magnon genius of trumping objective evidence with subjective belief. The original and only true form of magic.
How has science dealt with this quandary? By encouraging open enquiry and vigorous reciprocal accountability. And by enticing younger researchers to take risks and challenge portions of the edifice that may be weak, with substantial status awaiting those who do succeed in toppling a paradigm, some time.
I have generalized this with a catchy acronym-aphorism - CITOKATE ... or...Criticism is the Only Known Antidote to Error. A practicing scientist knows this, in his or her bones, even as the Cro Magnon ego inevitably tugs in the other direction, murmuring to each of us that we are 100% correct and that critics are all vile fools. Yes, that tug is overwhelming. Which makes even the partial success of scientific training - at making some egotists welcome criticism - all the more wondrous, almost a miracle.
All eyes are opened, or opening to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born ,with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of god. These are grounds of hope for others.
"Children who had the greatest self-control in primary school and preschool ages were most likely to have fewer health problems when they reached their 30s," says Terrie Moffitt, a professor of psychology at Duke University and King's College London.
Moffitt and a team of researchers studied a group of 1,000 people born in New Zealand in 1972 and 1973, tracking them from birth to age 32. The new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is the best evidence yet on the payoff for learning self-discipline early on.
The researchers define self-control as having skills like conscientiousness, self-discipline and perseverance, as well as being able to consider the consequences of actions in making decisions.
The children who struggled with self-control as preschoolers were three times as likely to have problems as young adults. They were more prone to have a criminal record; more likely to be poor or have financial problems; and they were more likely to be single parents.
To neurophysiologists, who research cognitive functions, the emotionally driven appear to suffer from cognitive deficits that mimic certain types of brain injuries. Not just partisan political junkies, but ardent sports fans, the devout, even hobbyists. Anyone with an intense emotional interest in a subject loses the ability to observe it objectively: You selectively perceive events. You ignore data and facts that disagree with your main philosophy. Even your memory works to fool you, as you selectively retain what you believe in, and subtly mask any memories that might conflict.
Studies have shown that we are actually biased in our visual perception - literally, how we see the world - because of our belief systems.
Science seeks the truth. And it does not discriminate. For better or worse it finds things out. Science is humble. It knows what it knows and it knows what it doesn’t know. It bases its conclusions and beliefs on hard evidence -- evidence that is constantly updated and upgraded. It doesn’t get offended when new facts come along. It embraces the body of knowledge. It doesn’t hold on to medieval practices because they are tradition. If it did, you wouldn’t get a shot of penicillin, you’d pop a leach down your trousers and pray. Whatever you “believe,” this is not as effective as medicine. Again you can say, “It works for me,” but so do placebos.
If my understanding of human nature is that there is no conscious self inside then I must live that way--otherwise this is a vain and lifeless theory of human nature. But how can 'I' live as though I do not exist, and who would be choosing to do so?
One trick is to concentrate on the present moment--all the time--letting go of any thoughts that come up. This kind of 'meme-weeding' requires a great concentration but is most interestin in its effect. If you can concentrate for a few minutes at a time, you will begin to see that in any moment there is no observing self. Suppose you sit and look out of the window. Ideas will come up but these are all past- and future-oriented; so let them go, come back to the present. Just notice what is happening. The mind leaps to label objects with words, but these words take time and are not really in the present. So let them go too. With a lot of practice the world looks different; the idea of a series of events gives way to nothing but change, and the idea of a self who is viewing the scene seems to fall away.
Another way is to pay attention to everything equally. This is an odd practice because things begin to lose their 'thingness' and become just changes. Also, it throws up the question of who is paying attention (Blackmore 1995). What becomes obvious, in doing this task, is that attention is always being manipulated by things outside yourself rather than controlled by you. The longer you can sit still and attend to everything, the more obvious it becomes that attention is dragged away by sounds, movements, and most of all thoughts that seem to come from nowhere. These are the memes fighting ti out to grab the information-processing resources of the brain they might use for their propagation. Things that worry you, opinions that you hold, things you want to say to someone, or wish you hadn't--these all come and grab the attention to everything disarms them and makes it obvious that you never did control the attention; it controlled--and created--you.
These kinds of practices begin to wear away at the false self. In the present moment, attending equally to everything, there is no distinction between myself and the things happening. It is only when 'I' want something, respond to something, believe something decide to do something, that 'I' suddenly appear. This can be seen directly through experience with enough practice at just being.
This insight is perfectly compatible with memetics. In most people the selfplex is constantly being reinforced. Everything that happens is referred to the self, sensations are referred to the observing self, shifts of attention are attributed to the self, decisions are described as being made by the self, and so on. All this reconfirms and sustains the selfplex, and the result is a quality of consciousness dominated by the sense of 'I' in the middle--me in charge, me responsible, me suffering. The effect of one-pointed concentration is to stop the processes that feed the selfplex. Learning to pay attention to everything equally stops self-related memes from grabbing the attention; learning to be fully in the present moment stops speculation about the past and future of the mythical 'I'. These are tricks that help a human person (body, brain and memes) to drop the false ideas of the selfplex. The quality of consciousness then changes to become open, and spacious, and free of self. The effect is like waking up from a state of confusion--or waking from the meme dream (Blackmore in press).
I think it is very important--at least it was to me--that if you are going to teach people to make observations, you should show that something wonderful can come from them. I learned then what science was about. It was patience. If you looked, and you watched, and you paid attention, you got a great reward from it (although possible not every time). As a result, when I became a more mature man, I would painstakingly, hour after hour, for years, work on problems--sometimes many years, sometimes shorter times--many of them failing, lots of stuff going into the wastebasket; but every once in a while there was the gold of a new understanding that I had learned to expect when I was a kid, the result of observation. For I did not learn that observation was not worthwhile.
What then is the meaning of the whole world? We do not know what the meaning of existence is. We say, as the result of studying all of the views that we have had before, we find that we do not know the meaning of existence; but in saying that we do knot know the meaning of existence, we have probably found the open channel--if we will allow only that, as we progress, we leave open opportunities for alternatives , that we do not become enthusiastic for the fact, the knowledge, the absolute truth, but remain always uncertain--[that we] "hazard it." The English, who have developed their government in this direction, call it "muddling through," and although a rather silly, stupid sounding thing, it is the most scientific way of progressing. To decide upon the answer is not scientific. In order to make progress, one must leave the door to the unknown ajar--ajar only. We are only at the beginning of the development of the human race; of the development of the human mind, of intelligent life--we have years and years in the future. It is our responsibility not to give the answer today as to what it is all about, to drive everybody down in that direction and to say: "This is a solution to it all." Because we will be chained then to the limits of our present imagination. We will only be able to do those things that we think today are the things to do. Whereas, if we leave always some room for doubt, some room for discussion, and proceed tin a way analogous to the sciences, then this difficulty will not arise.