Rational Religion

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The Rape of Metaphysics


"There are no facts; only interpretations."  Nietzsche


Nietzsche was wrong, I think.   There probably are facts; realities; objective truths.


The demonstration of this, if not a "proof," is that so many of the interpretations of given phenomena are so similar.  Once the individual interpreters can get their heads together and compare notes, their necessarily metaphysical readouts tend to agree more and more closely about a good many physical processes and entities.


There is always the danger that one unusually powerful personality, or one especially persuasive school of thought, will usurp the objectivity of the group and project some dogmatic ideology which will stain everybody's interpretation.  (The “Great Man” syndrome.) That has happened far oftener in the history of human thought than not.


But with the use of such sophisticated mental tools as Scientific Method we have learned to guard against such philosophical ambushes.


Some of the time.


The problem is that we all have to operate our cognitive functions in the realm of metaphysics. 


There is no way to hard-wire reality into our brains


We have to take all of our world in through our senses, process it with some Original Equipment which is mostly the product of our DNA, try to integrate it with everything else we have ever put into our wetware, and come up with an interpretation which seems to make sense; to us.


With only a little bit of analysis it becomes obvious that understanding anything well is fiendishly difficult.


It is far easier, and far more likely, that we truncate the process after we have achieved a sketchy, partial readout; say "This is it!;" and make the rest of it up.


Making it up is what we do best.  We are equipped with facile imaginations which can fill in all the blanks in our world-view almost without our having to think about it.  This saves us from both the angst of not knowing and from the dreary scut work of serious investigation.


It is this glitch in our cognitive processes which preserves -- in a modern world, after two thousand years of philosophy and at least 300 years of pretty good science -- Superstition's captivity and enslavement of metaphysics.


Our ancestors had the excuse of true ignorance.  They simply didn't know enough to construct reasonable personal world-views and cosmologies.


Because raw survival was involved, they got pretty good at the things which tended to keep them alive; techniques of the hunt, and later of agriculture; interpersonal relationships and group dynamics -- in groups of a manageable size.


But as to the mechanics of physical phenomena; from shooting stars to the simple cycles of night and day; they largely hadn't a clue.


But because they were human, and therefore had to know, they blithely made up all the important answers that they didn't have access to; and taught them to their children.


This is how our precious metaphysical interface...the only means that each of us has to relate to the rest of the universe...was captured by fear and superstition.


Because tradition is so powerful, and the status quo so seductive, most of us haven't a prayer of escaping.  If we insist on believing the fairy tales of our innocent forebears, the comet will come and smite us off the planet; we will never have seen it coming nor tried to devise a scheme to save ourselves.


Or perhaps, in the stubborn conviction that God Will Provide, we will simply over-reproduce and pollute the poor little Blue Marble beyond the limits of survival for anything but a cockroach. 


Curiously, I remain optimistic; but chiefly because pessimism is a double negative and leads nowhere.   We may be going nowhere, but maintaining the alternative illusion will keep most of us reasonably cheerful within the process of living out our lives.


Meanwhile, those of us who wish to maintain the illusion that we are doing something must rescue our only tool from the swamp of dogma and misinformation and apply it to the best information and techniques of investigation available to us.


Free Metaphysics!  It was never meant to be in chains.