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With your feet in the air, and your head on the ground . . .

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{Wednesday, January 11, 2006}

 
In "The Doors of Perception" Aldous Huxley mentions how Thomas Aquinas, after a lifetime of scholarly work, had a "mystical" experience, which Huxley characterizes as one of simply unfiltered perception of reality, and stopped writing, never returning to scholarly work in the remaining two years of his life. Explaining why, he famously said: "I cannot go on...All that I have written seems to me like so much straw compared to what I have seen and what has been revealed to me."

As I walked in to work this brisk, overcast morning, I tried to leave all thought behind, and just see the world around me. It is a very different way to pass the time, and very nice. Being a novice, however, and an addict of the intellect, I couldn't help slipping back into the contemplative mode, and here's what I thought:

As I scientist, I'm devoted to the pursuit of discovering and revealing truth. At least, that's how I concieve of it. But as Huxley points out, the tool of our intellect is language, and language is capable only of crude, vague, awkward description. Scientists attempt to outrun the limitations of language by quantifying the world with numbers and statistics and equations, but these too allow only a reduction of reality to a representational shadow of itself.

What good is it, then, to "discover" truth? It's out there already, doing just fine on its own. Truth lies in reality itself; words, measurements, statistics, publications do not add to the amount of truth in the universe; the universe just IS, and all the truth that there is, is. All a scientist can do, then, is attempt to facilitate the revelation of truth to other people . . . and even then, the truths science is capable of revealing are generally (as Huxley also points out) merely the verbal, conceptual, abstract shadows of truth.

So what am I going to do today? Run 4 participants in my behavioral study, and scan another person's brain for my fMRI study. No use letting the futility of life get in the way of living it.

posted by Miles 8:55 AM

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I think the futility of communicating truth accurately is exactly what makes it interesting.

I mean, really. If Huxley had been able had been able to tell everyone exactly what he saw as truth and everyone already knew it, what I would I do for fun? Play miniature golf, probably. And "seeking truth" sounds much better.
 
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