Friday, November 04, 2005

Critical Rationalism, Ghosts and Walkins.

There. It keeps happening. Tantalising, (for me, at least) tips of discussions occurring over at the Home-schooling discussion board in the Cocktail Lounge at the Denim Jumper: this time, with regard to the issue of how we go about deciding upon the theories that we will hold dear, the ideas that we think are our best ones. (Under the title: "Painfully out of Touch with Reality".)

Radical Edwards made the point about Walkins (a spirit that enters another person when that person has finished with the lessons of life, and would normally otherwise die), saying essentially that because she cannot disprove the concept, she must accept it.

Of course, the critical rationalist in me kicked in at this point and this is what I started to say:
(for a much sounder, clearer explanation, there is Bryan Magee's Fontana Classic "Popper," but I had a go anyway).

It seems that knowledge can never, ever be justified or, if you like, proved. The separation of reality from our perception of it means that we can never be sure that we have the best knowledge.

The immediate reaction here would be to think...HELP, if we cannot prove anything to be true, how can we take any of our ideas seriously, but we don't need abandon ourselves either to total incoherence and chaos, nor to the promotion of poor ideas over good and the way we can go about this, is through accepting that whilst our knowledge can never be proved true, we can disprove bad theories through criticism of one sort or another, and we can then tentatively prefer the theories that appear to withstand that criticism.

Incidentally, we can also take from the fact that since we can never ever prove anything to be true, with regard to the issue of the existence or otherwise of ghosts and walkins, that just because we cannot prove something beyond doubt to be false, it doesn't necessarily mean that the idea could be true.

How can we exclude poor theories? Well, we can go about critiquing ideas in a number of different ways, depending to some extent upon the nature of the theory under examination. We may use the process of falsification, where a theory must be potentially refutable, such as the statement "all swans are white", as is required for scientific rigour, or we may use philosophical criticisms, such as whether the theory is logical, whether it appears to match the data, whether it fits with other good explanations, whether the theory contains
good explanations, etc.

So in the case of Walkins, the description of which starts in this way:

"To understand what a "walk-in" is, one first needs to understand that our physical body is not *us*. It is the container for *us*. Similar to someone driving a car. When we see the driver we understand that they exist irrespective of whether they have a car, or not. So too with our bodies. We exist irrespective of whether we have a physical body or not. In other words we existed as a spirit (soul) before the body we now occupy was born. When our physical body dies we will continue to exist without it."

The explanation of how walkins can seemingly transfer from one body to another is based upon the idea that "we" are separate from our physical bodies. However this assertion is made upon the basis of an analogy rather than an explanation. Whilst analogies can be very useful in clarifying theories by using vivid ideas, they may also be false analogies, which either attempt to conceal absense of explanation or hide the existence of false explanations. We can accept perfectly happily that cars exist independently of their drivers, insofar as it is quite clear that the driver is not integral to the structure or function of the car. However, it is far from clear that the mind, or "we", can exist without the structure to sustain it. This is precisely what is at issue here, and a false analogy cannot substitute for an explanation of how the mind can be perceived as existing independently of the brain.

Given the increasing evidence with things such as magnetic resonance imaging, that demonstrate that when a brain is stimulated, thoughts that only deliver an experience to the person in possession of that mind occur, and given that there is no current or conceivable explanation of how thinking can occur independenly of the brain, our best theory should seemingly be that minds are predicated upon the existence of brains, and that you cannot transfer experience from one brain into another without, the as yet to be achieved brain transplant or insertion of some kind of chip...(which I understand is not so far away).

Whilst these assertions cannot be proved, or as yet even falsified, I think we are nonetheless best off deciding which of these situations seems to contain the best explanation. I would happily change my mind on this matter if someone could explain how thought is not predicated upon the existence of neurones and synapses. Until then, walkins look to me like a redundant theory.

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