Thursday, May 10, 2007


Philosophy 101.1

Musings on my philosophy

My struggle all these months and years has been to find the grounding principles for my personal philosophy. After a while, I simply avoided the issue of Epistemology and Ontology and proceeded to develop some practical principles that I believed in well enough to follow. These I have enumerated my paper on Philosophical Foundations I intend to publish later.

There seem to be two dichotomies in my approach; one of religious faith and Christian principles, and the other of practical, everyday, working principles that may or may not reflect Christian principles. When we speak of origins of these ideas, the religious side follows from my early life lessons from Sunday school and Church, and the practical side from life experiences and a modicum of common sense. Neither of these sides addresses the real foundations of knowledge and how we obtain it in an ultimate sense.

One must spend a lifetime of study to penetrate the arenas of Epistemology and Ontology and come out the other side with a deep understanding of the basis of our knowledge, usually founded on the works of ancient and modern philosophers—Plato and Aristotle being the main starting points. But it goes on from there into vast complications of thought brought to us from later philosophers that have extended the universe of ideas and principles immensely. At the same time, they have introduced terminology to suit their ideas to the point that one seems first to be studying a new language with overlapping definitions of terms that spins ones head, for each philosopher one reads. In fact, that appears to be a criterion for being considered a deep thinker. Invent terms for their philosophy that have sufficient differences from earlier versions that no one can really pin them down, or if they can, they are still left with the problem of interpretation of every other philosopher in light of what they now understand (or think they do!).

Once you have mastered the key elements of the main philosophers, or at least become very familiar with them, you begin to wonder where your particular mindset falls, and which of these venerated men you most admire. I found bits and pieces that I treasured in all of the philosophers, but for me there was no systematic and complete philosophy that I could sign up to.

Something was missing in each one, and it was exceedingly difficult to trace all the way to the foundations just why I felt that way in each case. So I would move on, hoping to find the one I could fully agree with and believe in for life. It was like trying on coats and pants to see whether they fit. None did, not fully. I despaired also of making the in depth effort to create my own synthesis that would hold up under careful analysis (my own analysis, if no one else’s.)

One idea struck me as the most plausible I had found to explain how we came about as thinking people. The idea was inheritance of “loaded genes”. Forgetting about origins for the moment, we inherit a set of genes that carry enormous information for us to use as we mature. Much of what we become is due to our ability to use the power of this initial information effectively, and then to acquire ever more information as we go along.

So the mind is not a tabula rasa, or blank slate; it is loaded to the brim from our gene package with “how to” mechanisms that need merely the guidance of parents and others to evoke, especially the “how to learn” mechanism, and various “instinctive” survival functions. We have from the start been bequeathed the autonomous functions needed to regulate our bodily activities, which is an enormous package of information all by itself.

This information passing mechanism works alongside the physical passing of information carried by base elements of “how to” perform the energy-to-mass-to-elements transitions, which provides the environment and building blocks for life to begin. This is what some have labeled “self-organizing” matter.

The obvious question, then, is where does all of this information come from in the first place? Does it evolve by millions of simple accretions over billions of years, or is it somehow created whole? I do not think that scientists have progressed to the point where very much, if any, of the micro information contained in genes or in base elements are known with certainty. Nor have they, to my knowledge, compared genes from the past with genes from the present at this micro level. So it is an open scientific question.

If genes and self organizing matter were indeed created by some sort of accretion, this opens up a welter of concerns, such as how does a gene know which information to acquire and which information to ignore as it rolls along? Then too, where did the pure information, ready for assimilation by a gene, come from? Random events over time are an unlikely possibility, in my opinion, at least for the bulk of the complex information needed.

If we follow this argument a bit further, creation whole seems to be the simplest choice. The difficulty with this conclusion is quite apparent: what agency created these information and self organization mechanisms in the beginning? Was it not God?



This line of thought leads to the question of determination versus free will. If all is organized and predetermined from the start by our genes, then we do not have free will. Yet we obviously do have it to some degree, or, better to say, I believe that we have free will beyond that which is determined for us by inheritance. Can I prove this? No. It is my belief and I am stuck with it. God wanted it that way and He has taken great pains to ensure that we have it.

Can a set of genes be self-modifying? That is, can life experiences or other factors alter person’s genes? I see no impediment to such actions, provided only that The Great Architect created the capability for limited self-modification, perhaps through some sort of heuristic algorithm embedded in our genes that assesses the need for change, the direction of the change, and then actually implements the change. The effects of the change might not be apparent for a generation or two, or it might show up quickly. Thus it would be rather hard to observe all such changes in humans in the near term. Adaptation to the environment seems to be a necessary survival characteristic. This is another open scientific question.

This meme argues for a First Cause, and then a set of incremental causes throughout the universe, the information for which is carried by elements and genes. It argues for a grand determination and a local free will for man.


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