(Pictured right: Sir Karl R. Popper)
In the prior post (Sept 7) I mentioned four influential thinkers who occupied themselves with the human soul, our identity, that what makes us ‘ourselves’. As I wrote earlier, I do not think that there will come a day on which researchers and philosophers will announce that our minds are completely described in any scientifically sound way.
Why do I think this? Antony Flew, a respected British philosopher, put it succinctly in his textbook ‘A History Of Western Philosophy’: he stated that it is in principle impossible to explain everything. There will always remain ‘last’, or ‘ultimate’ terms, that cannot be explained themselves. Should one nonetheless try to follow this path, one will eventually find that one is stuck in a form of infinite regress, or in the trap of circular reasoning.
If you are a parent, no doubt you will have seen what infinite regress is, when your small one burdened you with one of those ‘what is’, or ‘why’ questions. You may gladly have accepted the first question, and perhaps even were able to answer it satisfyingly (‘why do cars go so fast?’); when you had to start the washing machine and simultaneously answer the tenth question, it really wasn’t that funny anymore… because now you had to explain what gasoline is, how it is made from oil, and h0w a motor engine really works.
You’ll get the idea: at that point you began to get a nagging suspicion that the line of questioning by your child could well turn out to be an infinite one.
So: I agree with those who aren’t out to explain everything. I’d much rather agree with Karl Popper, wrote a book with eminent brain scientist Sir John C. Eccles (‘The Self And Its Brain’, Springer, 1977): ‘perhaps it is possible to make a little progress here and there’. No wonder then, that Popper wasn’t a revolutionary character at all, and in his works on society, he made a good case for ‘piecemeal social engineering’.
So, now I got a few personal ideas out of the way.