Re: FW: MD Dawkins on quantum/mysticism convergence

From: Scott Chase (
Date: Sun Mar 17 2002 - 19:05:49 GMT

  • Next message: Grant Callaghan: "Re: FW: MD Dawkins on quantum/mysticism convergence"

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    Subject: Re: FW: MD Dawkins on quantum/mysticism convergence
    Date: Sun, 17 Mar 2002 14:05:49 -0500
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    >From: "Grant Callaghan" <>
    >Subject: Re: FW: MD Dawkins on quantum/mysticism convergence
    >Date: Sun, 17 Mar 2002 07:38:49 -0800
    >>Subject: Re: FW: MD Dawkins on quantum/mysticism convergence
    >>Date: Sun, 17 Mar 2002 06:02:16 EST
    >>In a message dated 3/17/2002 3:24:55 AM Central Standard Time, Douglas
    >>Brooker <> writes:
    >> > > >Hi Douglas.
    >> > > >
    >> > > >My earlier use of the phrase "the ineffable Quantum of being"
    >> > > >a few months ago was also in reference to some of the mystical
    >> > > >interpretations of quantum mechanics.
    >> > > >
    >> > > > > and memetics is a science?
    >> > > >
    >> > > >Just suppose that Eastern mysticism got attached to quantum
    >> > > >physics in the early days, so that a substantial fraction of
    >> > > >the physicists reading their first quantum physics books were
    >> > > >asked to swallow a lot of mysticism. The word "quantum"
    >> > > >would have gained a very bad reputation among serious
    >> > > >physicists.
    >> > > >
    >> > > > > sounds like the pot calling the kettle black.
    >> > > >
    >> > > >Perhaps this is the old strategy of the best defense
    >> > > >being a good offense.
    >> > > >
    >> > > >
    >> > > Dawkins is right on the money. "Quantum" seems to be a popular
    >> > to
    >> > > attach to a lot of goofy ideas making them more trendy in pop
    >> > s
    >> > > like a vague allusion to QM has hybridized with various kooky pet
    >> >
    >> >
    >> > The migration of a word from a narrow scientific context to a much
    >> > one would seem to be a
    >> > perfect subject for memetics. One one extreme, the physicists; one
    >> > other,
    >> > the 'kooky pet theories'.
    >> >
    >> > Question 1: describe the migration (or expansion) of the use of
    >> > "quantum."
    >> > Question 2: explain the migration
    >>Contagious mysticism goes way, way back. Adding
    >>pseudo-justifications in terms of "quantum" theory increases the
    >>transmissivity, receptivity, and longevity in a more scientific and
    >>technological society. People are more willing to express their
    >>ideas if they think (rightly or wrongly) that they have scientific
    >>legitimacy, such as might be conferred by a basis in quantum
    >>Listeners can be more receptive to such messages too. Since
    >>few people have any serious knowledge of quantum mechanics,
    >>they often defer to the other person as the "expert" if that person
    >>is referring to quantum physics. This confers receptivity.
    >>Longevity might also be increased due to refutation-resistance.
    >>Again, most people do not know enough about quantum
    >>mechanics to effectively challenge misbeliefs about its
    >>implications. Even those who do have such knowledge know
    >>that it could take a very long time to explain, so that they
    >>often do not even bother trying. Moreover, people with credentials
    >>in physics can be bought by or sell out to mystical movements in
    >>need of a credibility boost. Adding science and technology
    >>to a society is evolutionarily similar to adding antibiotics
    >>to a bacterial culture. Instead of drug resistance, we see
    >>the emergence of non-truth contingent refutation resistence.
    >>Ideas masquerading as quantum theory can thus help a mystical
    >>belief system spread more vigorously in a society that reveres
    >>science and technology. The belief systems can be more
    >>contagious and refutation resistant. More about these concepts
    >>on my site.
    >> > In many of the social sciences there is a tension in the discipline
    >> > between its prescriptive and descriptive urges. It's internal
    >> > perhaps. Linguistics is a good
    >> > example. (and maybe the positive-natural law dichotomy in legal
    >> > theory.) Prescriptivism is not much in fashion these days. But
    >> > fashions, by definition, change.
    >> >
    >> > Dawkins sounds as if he comes from a prescriptivist school of
    >>There may be reasons to doubt whether Dawkins really supports
    >>evolutionary cultural replicator theory, but that is a long and old
    >> > It's a bit like a lab scientist criticising germs because they are
    >>--Aaron Lynch
    >I think you're looking at this pehnomena from the wrong end. What we
    >be examining is who is using the word and for what purpose. A physicist
    >using the word to talk to his fellow scientists will use the term in a very
    >narrow sense because his reputation is tied to that usage. The average
    >person, however, uses the term as a metaphor more often than not. (As in
    >"Star Wars was a quantum leap over previous science fiction movies.)
    >When it comes to books like The Dancing Wu Li Masters or any book with the
    >word ZEN in the title and quantum in the text, the author is often trying
    >break down ideas used in his discipline for the benefit of readers who lack
    >the vocabulary and the knowledge to understand the concepts being talked
    >about. Again, that is a metaphorical use of the word.
    >To attack such usages for a lack of narrowness is to misunderstand the why
    >and how of what the author was doing with his words. For subjects like
    >mysticism or religion, we have to resort to metaphor in an attempt to
    >explain ideas that are too abstract to be understood through language.
    >is especially true in a new science like quantum mechanics because even the
    >people who coin the words usually have a fuzzy understanding of the
    >they are trying to convey. They have to talk about them before there can
    >agreement between themselves and others on exactly what it is they are
    >referring to.
    >When talking about ideas there are no words for, the tendency is to borrow
    >words from many places. Murray-Gellman, for example took simple, every-day
    >words for his division of the atom into things he alled "color," "top," or
    >"strange." He didn't mean these usages to convey the same meaning we use
    >them for in conversation. Some physicists borrow the words for new ideas
    >from mystical subjects because they find some similarities in the ideas
    >compare the vagueness of philosophy and the vagueness of concepts like
    >strings and quants.
    >At least in the beginning, they were vague. It's only later when enough
    >people agree on what has been observed that the meaning takes on some
    >sharpness and definition. I think there is a tipping point somewhere in
    >here that causes meaning to clarify when enough people begin using a word
    >a rigorous way.
    >I don't think it does anyone any good to complain about writers not using
    >scientific terms with the same rigor they are used in scientific
    >publications. You have to fit the words to the purpose and the audience
    >are writing for.
    Quantum mechanics has shown how incomprehensible "reality" (whatever the
    materialistic mechanists mean by that word) is and that there is a
    fundamental uncertainty that Modern Science has difficulty grappling with
    but the great Eastern spiritual masters can easily grasp through their
    intuitive feel for the great mystery of being. The playing field is now
    level. Since we cannot be certain of anything and our Western scientistic
    worldview crumbles at the subatomic level, whatever subjectivist mumbo jumbo
    I happen to spout is just as valid as whatever objectivist mumbo-jumbo you
    spout off. We are just two subjective ships passing along a sea of quantum
    uncertainty. My whims are as valid as your hard won knowledge.

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