Sunday, March 28, 2010

Dawkins furthers Sagan furthers Bronowski

Of these three men I admire Jacob Bronowski most. His series the Ascent of Man, produced in the 1970's, was most influential in my view of the moral realm. Though it is anticlimactic to show this two-minute clip, as it is the absolute emotional apex of the 13 hour long series, I show it here to reiterate the REASON we, collectively, ought to doubt superstition. Arrogance, dogma, and ignorance are the reasons Jacob Bronowski posits for the unthinkable atrocities that happened inside concentration camps. 

"When people believe that they have ABSOLUTE KNOWLEDGE with NO TEST in REALITY this is how they behave. This is what men do when they aspire to the knowledge of GODS."

He then goes on to say that SCIENCE is a very HUMAN form of knowledge. Here I think he means that no reported fact in science is ever thought infallible. No real scientist has ever claimed that the words they have written were divinely inspired, that the new grass species they've identified was revealed to them by angels. Reports come from other human beings all over planet earth. By reproducing  and scrutinizing the incoming results those facts are either confirmed or overturned. 

Recently I became aware of a man named Rudolf Steiner who lived in the early 20th century in Austria. As a philosopher he expended much effort in trying to bridge the scientific and spiritual ways of viewing the world. Though founding Waldorf education and Bio-dynamic farming were major accomplishments he is also widely remembered for founding anthroposophy - a spiritual worldview that promotes inner development by meditating and thinking about NATURAL PHENOMENON in an environment free of sensory input. As I think about the word Anthroposophy I can not help but think of Jacob Bronowski's view of "Science" as a "very human form of knowledge." Science as a concept has, in the minds of many, become a cold word over the last 50 years, devoid of the human face it once wore. Whether it be called science or anthroposophy the guiding principle behind all philosophy based on observation and subsequent contemplation of the natural world relies COMPLETELY on the physical and mental well-being of all conscious people on the planet. Personal freedom humbled by the equality granted to all by our social contract helps natural philosophy work to benefit humanity: longer life span, disease prevention and treatment, irrigation and sewage systems etc. 

When we abandon trust in our fellow man, when we abandon science because of fear, we leave ourselves susceptible to the certainty of dogma. 

In the 1980's Carl Sagan took up this dialogue when he produced Cosmos.  In the following clip  he makes arguments against the validity of astrological predictions while still making the ultimate point that the earth IS influenced by a star - THE SUN. Though some may see Sagan as callous to those who choose to believe in astrology, I take away from his words a further human appreciation.  To me his point about the sun  affirms my respect for the wisdom of ancient peoples in their reference for the sun and their meticulous attention to the seasons. 

But now, in present day, Richard Dawkins comes along and picks up the baton and portrays this dialogue as a battle. The intellectual aspect of the astrology debate Dawkins is trying to get at is subtle yet powerful.  He says in no uncertain terms "both racism and astrology are guilty of facile discrimination, dividing humanity up into EXCLUSIVE GROUPS based on NO EVIDENCE! "
For  skeptical people, people who choose to question ancient practices, this argument delivers a historical foothold.  Why did we as a planet decide that slavery was NOT OK?  Was it because of historical wisdom?  No, it was from a conscious evolution of morality stemming from enlightenment ideals, the likes of which the Texas State School board would rather not have taught in public schools


1 comment:

Margaret said...

Powerful juxtaposition there of those three clips. It was great to be reminded of the first two--I haven't seen them since they were first broadcast.

And when I first watched Cosmos, I didn't know anything of Janacek's music! But of course Sagan would have been a fan. He was a man of taste. :)