Posts Tagged ‘sufism’


October 14, 2010

Are words powerful enough to carry us from verbal definitions to ultimate realities? Or are there ineffabilities beyond their reach, but within that of unreasoning faith? What is the sound of one hand clapping, and why do you ask? A few of the questions addressed in these slides:

William James once complained that it would be an awful universe if everything could be converted to “words words words…” He was frequently talked out but rarely at a loss for words. He’d have happily picked up the POV gun and replaced his “conceptual shotgun” with it. But like most of us, while he lived and breathed he never did stop talking.

We were talking about radiotelepathy in FoL class yesterday, wondering if Wittgenstein’s notion that language limits our worlds has implications for the possibility of inter/intra-species nonverbal/nonvisual communication (with or without a microwave boost). We can talk about that today too.

This is one of the trickier topics in my discipline, which does indeed live in words. If something’s ineffable, shouldn’t we really shut up about it? But try telling (or tele-telling) that to a philosopher. They’ll listen; but unlike the best  kabbalahists (not sure the guy in this video is one of the best) and sufis they’ll probably also respond.

Following up last class’s discussion of Aquinas‘s “Fifth Way” Design Argument: a good book-length critique is offered by Michael Shermer in Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design.

In his classic Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion David Hume has a character he calls Philo say:

The world plainly resembles more an animal or a vegetable than it does a watch or knitting-loom. Its cause, therefore, it is more probable, resembles the cause of the former. The cause of the former is generation or vegetation.

The Dialogues express several objections to I.D., most prominently a rejection of the analogy in the first place.

Hume does not think that the universe resembles a complex machine at all. While the regularity of the laws of nature may superficially inspire the analogy, human artifacts are always clearly designed for a function. It often takes quite a bit of imagination to see what the purpose of some aspects of the universe really is. Biologist J.B.S. Haldane once answered a reporter who asked what his study of genetics told him about God: “He must have an inordinate fondness for beetles,” referring to the hundreds of thousands of species of these insects existing for no apparent purpose other than their own reproduction. M. Piggliucci

They’re colorful and abundant, and well accounted for by random variation and natural selection. But now, this would be interesting: