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(DV) Williamson: The Matter of Mind, Myth, and Metaphor (Epilogue)







Improvisation From The Proscenium
The Matter of Mind, Myth, and Metaphor: Epilogue
by Harold Williamson
June 2, 2005

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* Read Part One
* Read Part Two

* Read Part Three



“We are in the middle of a race between human skill as to means and human folly as to ends -- unless men increase in wisdom as much as in knowledge, increase of knowledge will be increase of sorrow.”


-- Bertrand Russell


We seldom heed what others have to say unless it has some immediate application to our own lives. Yet when the need arises to say something ourselves, we often expect others to listen as we mistakenly assume the role of prophet and succumb to the temptation to indulge in some amateur preaching. But libraries are replete with books filled with long sermons written in arcane and lifeless prose addressed to a nodding choir. So what couldn't be said in an essay of moderate length would have only added to the cacophony.


“Improvisation from the Proscenium: The Matter of Mind, Myth, and Metaphor” was written for a general readership having some background in science as well as the humanities. No claim was made to novelty in points of detail. The various theories presented as paradoxical philosophy are more thoroughly explained in the literature; however, many are abstruse -- some because they require considerable scholarship, others because they are not true.

I have no pretensions of being an augur of doom. Besides, anyone who has anything to say about the future is making it up anyway. My intent was to show the important role that uncertainty plays in our lives. That is all I should do. Make up your own mind what you think.  That is all you can do.

Wisdom is the capacity to recognize uncertainty. We must come to recognize the uncertainty that is inherent in our beliefs because it is our beliefs that cause divisiveness and destruction, not our uncertainties. We should always be willing to challenge our current assumptions because some things are more probable than others, and some things are probable to such an evident degree that it is easy to ignore the fact that they are not wholly certain.

For two thousand years the natural science of Aristotle has dominated Western philosophy with the belief that man could understand why things are the way they are by reasoning from “self-evident” principles. But we have learned that anything that appears to be “self-evident” cannot be trusted because what we consciously perceive as reality is an accumulation of cultural prejudices that have been deposited over the course of human history, and new ideas must combat this petrified accretion of presuppositions. From the beginning of the 20th century this has become even more apparent with the quantum theory of the structure of fundamental units of matter-energy, and relativity theory that deals with the structure of the universe in space-time. Both theories are “truths of reason” that explain how interactions happen relative to an observer, but neither theory can provide a satisfactory explanation of Aristotle’s why.

Contemporary views of our world continue to be fashionable misconceptions of reality that fluctuate in the realm between faith and doubt. Some think that it is better to believe the facts about our world through the discoveries of science. Others think that it is better to believe the words of incurable romantics interpreting divine revelation. There is beauty in each approach to asking the larger questions of our time. But the average person must rely on the arbitrament of authority, a sort of 21st-century scholasticism, to reconcile unfathomable scientific analysis with implausible theologic synthesis. This is usually where the trouble begins, because throughout history what was believed by the influential select few to be beyond doubt has inevitably led to power and control over the many, followed by hubris, loss of meaning, and eventual self-destruction.

We are in the midst of a global crisis. Political and economic theories further divide and inflame a world fervid from centuries of national, racial, cultural, and religious intolerance. Technology has provided us with new views of the universe, and the results have been chaotic: Old answers of how the universe works have been discarded and new answers have replaced them. The structure of religion has ultimately depended on and interacted with prevailing worldviews, and with every increase in scientific knowledge of natural forces there has been less need for divine intervention in earthly affairs. But a moral compass is not to be found in the contingency of a physical world where one cannot prove that a particular path is the correct one to take. Time passes, paths split, and the world is changed forever in the flash of an unexpected event. It cannot be said with certainty that there does not exist in the physical universe a principle that unites design and purpose with phenomenal reality; it can only be said that as yet science has not discovered it.

“For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.” 

-- attributed to Robert Jastrow

Harold Williamson is a Chicago-based independent scholar. He can be reached at:  Copyright © 2005, Harold Williamson

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* Improvisation From The Proscenium, Part Three
* Amnesty International: US Monkeying With Human Rights
* Improvisation From The Proscenium, Part Two
* Did Newsweek Damage America's Image?
* Improvisation From The Proscenium, Part One
* Watching George Bush Trying to Pull a Rabbit Out of His Hat
* Shooting the Messenger Who Reported Human Rights Abuses in Afghanistan
* Agent Orange -- Thirty Years After
* Truth in Humor
* Redefining America
* The Missing WMD: Bush's Red Herring
* The Darkness in America
* Spinning The Vietnam War: What Goes Around Comes Around
* None Dare Call It Murder
* It Isn't God Who is Crazy
* Don't Trust Anybody Over Thirty
* Faith in the Postmodern World
* Remember Who The Enemy Is
* Obscenity, A Sign of the Times and the Post
* Thinking Anew: A Do-It-Yourself Project
* America's Blind Faith in Government
* Think Tanks and the Brainwashing of America
* Bully for the Bush Doctrine: A Natural History Perspective