Saturday, September 06, 2008

The Tragic Religion of Rationality

Scientists (and some others) like to tell us that ours is a world that can be understood and experienced through rationality alone. Well, you know what? They are wrong. Our world is not purely rational and to expect it to be is some kind of delusion of grandeur and narcissism. Some scientists have discovered that our universe does not actually behave as they expect it too according to their "laws" and principles, and some therefore imply that the universe is somehow behaving "unnaturally" or something. Okay, maybe I really am that dumb, but I would think that if your laws and principles don't match your experience then it's not the experiences that are faulty. It is the expectations that are faulty. You see, human "rationality" is not infallible and it is not ever going to completely agree with the whole of reality. Okay, unless you decide to create strict little conditions, that is, which severely limit all the possibilities. But that is a very unnatural (and tragic) way of looking at big complexities in the same way as some tiny little speck of energy or whatever.

So where does the religion of rationality fail? It fails when the scientists' observations and experiences fail to match their expectations. Why doesn't the world unfold in the exact way that they demand? It's because their "rationality" is limited by its inability to account for irrationality, unexpectedness, and other surprises. They just cannot reconcile the "quantum" nature of life with their strict "standard model" of what is supposed to work and what they want to work. It's all about them and how they want the world to conform to their expectations. Guess what? It is irrational to expect the world to always look, feel, respond, or behave in the way you have decided is the only right way. And it will only lead one to a very lonely and unsatisfying life if one thinks he can reject all things that don't agree with his expectations and "rational" conclusions.

Why is this religion of rationality tragic? Well, because it causes people to limit their options and possibilities by defining something "irrational" which can mean anything from "unlikely" or "untenable" or "impossible." I do believe that anytime someone limits his experiences in life because something will probably require some extra effort and "faith" that it will work out it is a tragedy because there is no growth/progress/learning without trying new and possibly difficult things. Did the Wright Brothers stop trying to fly just because it was "irrational" for men to believe it was possible? Did John McCain give up when he was beaten, broken, and near death in a prison camp just because survival looked impossible and irrational? Do men and women stop falling in love and marrying just because the survival of a marriage is statistically unlikely and "irrational" because their biological makeup is designed for something other than lifelong monogamy? Fear is the rational response to many situations, but sometimes people don't rely on that rationality and instead decide to fight against the odds, even if the odds are very much against them.

I've seen a "proof" that equality is an irrational concept because it has no real physical basis. I find that a tragic conclusion because it does not allow that human beings can transcend their "purely physical" biology. It only looks at some discreet measurements of human bodies and brains but it does not look at the deeper value of life itself. Do we decide that some human lives are less valuable than some others just because of some somewhat artificially determined measurements of their biologies? I don't think that is really and truly a moral, or even rational, approach. Equality exists in the human mind that can actually see more than just the sum of the parts. Maybe some people just cannot conceive of something being greater than the sum of its parts, but thousands of years of human experience have illustrated very different conclusions. Does that thing that is greater than the sum of the parts actually exist? I think it does even though we haven't yet found a way to measure it in some "real physical" way. Is that irrational?

I think that the religion of rationality fails to account for the way that rationality isn't always exact and unchanging. What we see as rational options now might have been seen as crazy fantasies hundreds of years ago. How does that change? It changes because some people are willing to reject strict rules of "rationality" to imagine the "impossible" and to actually have the courage to try to make it possible. To borrow a phrase from Obama, et al, it is the "audacity of hope" that drives many instances of transcending the "rational."

Of course, some rational things can't be changed, just like the omnipotent God trying to convince the immovable object to move. That immovable object keeps telling the God that it is irrational to listen to an irrational God at all and that it is too difficult to try to move anyway. So the God just keeps on making circles around that object so that they are stuck in some swirling "singularity" of conflict between the known and unknown, the real and the imagined, the rational and the irrational, much like the Yin Yang symbol:

ying yang

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Well, of course, all of this is just a bunch of irrational mumbo-jumbo, but it is that irrational mumbo-jumbo that has really and truly propelled humanity to transcend its perceived physical limits, and I think it will be truly tragic if humanity forgets its "divine" nature and relies only on what it sees as "rational". Honestly, how many times has it changed the world for the better when people chose to limit themselves to what they believed were the only "rational" options?


Rae Ann said...

Well, I don't usually comment on my own posts like this, but I have to wonder if anyone actually reads my these serious posts. I don't really write them for other people necessarily, but the point of a public blog is so that other people can read them and comment is so inspired. I guess I don't inspire any comments, except for sometimes nice ones from friends or critical anonymous ones occasionally. Is it because what I write is too dumb, or not understandable, or too cliche, or what? I'm just really curious as to why no one ever says that it was great or terrible or wrong or right or just a waste of their time. I don't know. Maybe all these words just get filed away in some server somewhere never to be accessed again. Sorry for my little pity party here. ;-)

The Guy said...

I read them when I have the time, Rae. It helps if I have the right mind set too ;-)

This particular article is neither dumb nor un-understanble. Quantum mechanics (for example) have never matched "rational" expectations. That's part of the reason Einstein always felt it was an incomplete theorem as is the case until they finally subsume relativity. Which won't happen as long as they attempt to treat gravity as a force mediated by a particle as electromagnetism is mediated by photons. Einstein made it clear and evident that gravity is a product of changes in the timespace metric, not a mediated force interaction. That is why gravity is so weak compared to the other forces.

Aaaanyways, there's a quote that goes something like this:
The rational man adapts himself to his circumstances while the irrational man attempts to adapt his circumstances to his expectations. Therefore all progress depends on the irrational man.

I think that's what your talking about. And you're largely right.

Rae Ann said...

Hi Guy! Thanks! And I know you are one of the only people who ever read and comment and for that I'm very grateful. And yes, that was what I was trying to say, and thank you so much for that nice, concise quote to summarize my rambling. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Hey, Rae--I said this already in an unrelated post (BAD commenter! BAD!), but I thought it bore repeating and a little elaboration here.

I do quite regularly read your blog. Much of it I enjoy, and some of it I strongly disagree with because we see political things quite differently. Even when I disagree, however, I do appreciate the way that you express yourself, as well as your passion.

I haven't commented much in part because I don't have a desire to publicly disagree with you, and in part because I don't keep a blog of my own that I could link to instead of making looooooong, rambling comments.

You are a talented writer and a dear friend, and you express your thoughts cogently. It doesn't matter to me that we disagree on some things, and I know from the kindness and love you show to me as a friend that it doesn't matter to you, either.

But if a blog is intended to be a conversation of sorts, should I just stay out of the conversation when I'm not in agreement? Maybe not. Thanks for what I'm choosing to view as a renewed invitation to comment freely--and please feel free to retract it if you don't want my particular views in the mix!


Rae Ann said...

Thanks Ellen! Of course you can write as long and rambling comments as you want. :-) It's totally okay if you disagree with me, publicly or otherwise, and please don't ever worry that I'll get upset about it. I really do want to hear opinions of people I respect and love because I know I'm not always 'right' about everything and how will I know if someone doesn't tell me? ;-) You are always welcome!!

Anonymous said...

You're the best. :-)

Derek MB said...

I wonder how many people read stuff like this too. Personally I find it very valuable and intriguing information.

I think many use science as a kind of religion. Atheists in particular. They abuse science by perpetrating it as a philosophy that they go around preaching. If a thing or idea does not fit comfortably within the philosophy, then, like most religion does, they refuse to accept or consider it, automatically labeling it false. To me this is a tragedy. If you consider that the majority of the people are above average/smart, then it becomes depressing. Perhaps you feel the same, but in terms of consciousness or awareness, I feel alone. The only thing that has so far worked for me in combating this loneliness is non-attachment. Though I'm not perfect at it, I at least don't really get those restless feelings anymore, as I have learned to accept and know what it is to be aware while everyone else is asleep.