Kapanalig Sa Wala - Literally, one who also have faith in nothing, is a play on words and wasn't really intended to mean something. It was made in jest to call the atheist camp when I was still actively debating god in one of the demised public forums out there. I think walang pananalig (faithless) would have proven to be more precise but I think the intended humor will be lost.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Evolution of Thought

I have rediscovered reading when I got my first credit card, I browsed Amazon for music CDs of bands I used to listen to as a teenager. In one of the days I was browsing music, I naturally jumped to browsing books. I originally only had computer books in mind but that quickly changed to books that I would have learned had I access to them as a teenager. I'd like to read them because I wanted to learn, to understand, and to straighten things out about the things that I only had a vague idea of, but occupied my thoughts before, or simply I wanted to know more. As a child, I used to read books but I had very limited access in that the libraries in my place did not stock good books. They mostly stocked textbooks. Another reason was that in both grade school (public) and high school (Catholic), reading books was not encouraged. I'd say the teachers were close to being indifferent about reading books outside the normal class topics. I think this is because the teachers themselves were product of the same environment where indifference to books is common. When I rediscovered it much later, I felt some regrets that I didn't rediscover it much earlier that I could've. But what is past is past and here I am in another cycle of slow pace, I am reading books in a much slower pace than I did a few years ago when I used to read about two hours a day. Now I could only devote an hour if I am not so tired. My interests vary. Surveying my shelf, my books are heavy on science, specially evolutionary biology, a surprise now given that as a teenager, I thought I didn't like biology. I thought it was a boring science. As it turned out, it's because we were being taught the small picture, the leaves and twigs without giving us the unifying principle behind it, the trunk, and the roots where the concept got it's heritage. The great biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky once famously remarked that
Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.
If one understands biological evolution, one cannot but wholeheartedly agree. When I started reading books again, one of the first books I read was Charles Darwin's Origin Of Species. As a teen I had this partial knowledge of evolution theory. Partial because as a teenager I already had ideas about what is evolution (as obviously as it sound, I understood it then as change over time) but I was totally clueless about how organisms could change over time. (Not that I know now completely though.) I got these ideas mainly from watching television programs on archaeology, anthropology, and geology on government operated television channels. The Marcos-era government-run TV channels were a lot better than our current crop of stupid private television channels, including those run by religious corporations. I think the pre-Cory channel 9 was run by very literate people, probably going all the way up to Malacanang. Nowadays, I don't watch any Philippine TV which I now consider as contributing to the further dumbing down of the Pinoy society, but I digressed. Going back to the topic, after reading Darwin's book, sometime later I read Thomas Malthus' essay on population and now reading Adam Smith's Wealth Of Nations. Reading Smith now is for purposes of understanding his ideas and not merely being able to say Invisible Hand without knowing the ideas behind it. In the course of time, I come to read the works of Milton Friedman, F. Hayek, Ayn Rand, and other authors, even Thomas Friedman! I now think that the ideas come back in many forms and in different spheres of knowledge and don't stand on and by itself. Ideas of course have their own heritage as Newton once wrote (paraphrased) that he saw further because he was standing on the shoulders of giants. What I am talking about is that ideas have parallels in other fields while they may not be related, and that ideas also have some evolutionary characteristics though it doesn't seem Darwinian at the core. There are some form of cross-germinating other fields with novel insights in other fields that may or may not be related at all. For example, here is a short list of books that I think have parallel/overlapping ideas:

Origin of Species (Charles Darwin) - This book about biological evolution asserts that nature acts as a sieve that "favors" changes that confers very small advantages to individual organisms, change that accumulated over time produce different species. Darwin called this Natural Selection. (Approximates the best biological "designs" for a given environment.)

Structure Of Scientific Revolutions (Thomas Kuhn) - This asserts that scientific theories change over time or oftentimes completely overturned, such that what what is earlier accepted as scientifically true may at times be considered obsolete or patently false. Kuhn called these upheavals in thought as paradigm shifts and gave as textbook example the changes in the theory on gravitation from Aristotle to Galileo to Newton to Einstein. (Approximates truth.)

Popper Selections - (selected essays of Karl Popper edited by David Miller) - Popper was a prominent 20th century philosopher of science. This book gathers some of his writings about "truth" and how we may approximate it. He asserts that there is Truth but it's not provable since there is no absolute authority on Truth. Instead, we have conjectures, the falsehood of them can be established, and so must be discarded, or it's truthfulness stands as long as if it survives the assaults to falsify it through critical rationalism. (Approximates truth.)

Logic (Immanuel Kant) - This small book serves as an introduction to Kant's philosophy on truth. He asserts that definitions of concepts can only be approached asymptotically, that synthetic definitions are impossible while analytic definitions are uncertain, and that only constructive synthetic definitions can both be logical and certain. (Approximates truth.)

The Wealth Of Nations (Adam Smith) - This book on economic theory asserts that an economic system where the individuals are free to do as they choose will, as a consequence advance the common good. (Approximates the common good.)

Other prominent books with similar or overlapping concepts are An Essay on the Principle of Population by Thomas Malthus, Anarchy, Utopia, and State by Robert Nozick, and On Liberty by John Stuart Mill. I'll write about them sometime next.

Sometimes, reading some passage in one book brings back memories of another such that I find myself cross-referencing them. This has told me somehow that I need constant re-reading of the packages of books read in the past in order to cement the concept, to make it more concrete, and less abstract.