Friday, October 14, 2005

Simple Humanism

The history of science may be thought of as the search for simple rules underlying complex phenomena. This search, as the last couple of hundred years clearly show, has been amazingly, even surprisingly, successful. It seems that the world is more simple at its core than we ever expected.

It is not just physics. Sure, Newton ("F=ma"), Laplace (Nature produces "a great number of phenomena, often very complicated, by of a small number of general laws"), Einstein ("E=mc2") and others lead the way, but our contemporaries are busily extending the concept to many other fields. Stephen Wolfram's finite autonoma have sought to place the entire physical world on a simpler footing. Dawkins and Gould extended Darwin's evolution and made it, if anything, simpler. Joseph Campbell found simple underlying rules in worldwide human mythologies. Susan Blackmore, extending Dawkins, is trying to do it for ideas themselves.

I have started to wonder about humanism as a simplification. Humanism would seem to be an expansion of a human world view due to a simplification of the idea of creation. Humanism places humans again in the center of the perceived universe, capable of creating their own world views and solely responsible for their execution. The cause for this shift in perception is directly tied to the successes of simplification in other fields. It worked for physics, biology, economics, so why not God?

Of course, simple (there's that word again) economics tells us that relying on innate human reactions without long term planning (the Tragedy of the Commons) is a quick road to disaster in an economy based on scarcity. Humanism, therefore, is not a silver bullet to solving the world's problems. It just may allow us, though, to look at our problems more clearly and encourage us, however slightly, to plan for our long term survival instead of awaiting Armageddon to clean up our mess.

1 comment:

  1. Ok. So here's for a real comment.
    You may like to read Ruth Garrett Millikan: "Language, Thought, and Other Biological Categories: New Foundations for Realism" (1987) on how language
    and biology fit together.