Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Green Mars, p.346

My favourite bit so far has been the chapter 'The Scientist as Hero'. Unfortunately, from time to time poor Sax is set up as a bit of reductionist straw man. Take this exchange, from the beginning of the chapter 'Social Engineering', where Saxifrage Russell is talking to a hippy-dippy psychologist type:


There is a drive towards complexification that is directly opposed to the physical law of entropy. Why should that be?

I don’t know.

Why do you dislike it so when you can’t say why?

I don’t know.

This mystery of life is a holy thing. It is our freedom. We have shot out of physical reality, we exist in a kind of godlike freedom, and the mystery is integral to it.

No. We are still physical reality. Atoms in their rounds. Determined on most scales, random on some others.

Ah well. We disagree. But either way, the scientist’s job is to explore everything. No matter the difficulties! To stay open, to accept ambiguity…




I've written some new lines for Sax. I reckon it should go like this:

There is a drive towards complexification that is directly opposed to the physical law of entropy. Why should that be?

There isn’t a drive towards complexification. There’s a drive towards differentiation, a drive which is basically
the same as the physical law of entropy. You have just selected your data to focus on the end of the bell curve where complex things are happening, ignoring the fact that the curve is getting bigger and broader all the time.

Well, you’re entitled to your opinion. But I think your view saps all the mystery out of the universe. This mystery of life is a holy thing. It is our freedom. We have shot out of physical reality, we exist in a kind of godlike freedom, and the mystery is integral to it.

Why are you so eager to call everything you don’t understand ‘a mystery’?

Its not that I’m eager, it’s just that I feel there’s more to life than can be explained by physical science.

Why don’t you stop feeling, and try thinking, instead? What if the mystery is just an artifact of your imperfect understanding? What if the mystery, and the ‘godlike freedom’ just exist in your head? And what exactly do you mean by ‘shot out of physical reality’? You should define your terms.

Ah, my friend, don’t be mean! We disagree. But either way, the scientist’s job is to explore everything…

2 comments:

Chris Fellows said...

Or Sax could just quote Peter Medawar, from essay against Teilhard Chardin: 'Teilhard's belief, enthusiastically shared by Sir Julian Huxley, that evolution flouts or foils the second law of thermodynamics is based on a confusion of thought; and the idea that evolution has a main track or privileged axis is unsupported by scientific evidence.'

Marco said...

I suspect that Sax is a character that has influenced my own philosophy to a great extent. Fortunately he also survives through the three books.