Tuesday, April 15, 2014

I admire Neil deGrasse Tyson. Given his day job, he is almost certainly a respected astronomer. He is clearly a fine popularizer of science, communicator of scientific knowledge to the general public. I am not sure I trust his judgment on "soaring spiritual" experiences.

On the other hand, it represents a great intellectual achievement. It ranks with the idea that the modern landscape is the result of natural processes that raised mountains and then washed them away, created seas and then dried them up, Another idea of similar importance is that efficient markets can find prices that reconcile supply and demand for goods (as it were) naturally, without the intervention of a central planner. I put it in the same class with the idea that the larger a statistical sample, the more closely its average value will approximate the mean of the distribution from which it was drawn; a similar idea is that the children of individuals who differ greatly from the mean in some way will tend to be closer to the mean than their parents. Homeostasis is another idea from science, suggesting that order may be maintained by natural processes -- an idea that is linked to modern engineering control theory.

Before the Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution, people assumed that all order was achieved by some intelligence imposing that order. We now understand that in some circumstances order can arise and/or be maintained without planning. That teleonomic processes are possible as well as teleological ones.

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