Re: virus: Religion, Zen, post-structuralism, and the failure of logic

David McFadzean (
Thu, 5 Jun 1997 23:07:26 -0600

> From: John "Dry-Roasted Army Worm" Williams <>
> Date: Sunday, June 01, 1997 9:22 PM

> Most of this discussion has been over the issue of "Faith," and whether or
> not McF has unfairly maligned it. Notice that we were more or less
> incapable of agreeing on any sort of definition -- what I delinieate as
> Faith, McF sees only as *belief*. Well, after more thought, I'm prepared to
> offer a modified version of McF's definition:
> Faith: confidence in a paradigm without any clear evidence of the validity
> of that paradigm.

I would agree to that. Just curious: is there any special reason you
substituted "paradigm" for "belief"? I think "paradigm" has connotations
of a fundamental set of beliefs which affects all others. Can't one have
faith in anything smaller than a world-view?

> This, like my definition of God, is designed to be as non-restrictive and
> as inclusive of all viewpoints that I've been in contact with. I think it
> works for me, I think it works for fundamentalism, and I think it works for
> science.


> My explaination of the latter is grounded in post-structuralist theory.
> Structuralism, if you'll recall, is based on the concept that there is an
> underlying "deep structure" to everything that we can come in contact with
> and understand. From this point, we can clearly see some similarities
> between Science and Religion -- both claim that humans can contact
> *something* which gives definition, direct, to the Way Things Work. With
> Science, it is Science itself -- with Religion, it is one's personal
> encounter with Deity.

I think with Science the deep structure is reality as opposed to Science
itself. Objective reality is the ultimate measure stick for truth. In fact
I've come to accept that it is what scientists are talking about when the
talk about The Truth. I don't necessarily agree, but it works when I am
talking to scientists about Truth with a capital T.

The reason I don't agree is I think truth as a property is best restricted
to models, and here I mean model to be any system whose function is to
represent another system. This includes physical models, mathematical models,
mental models, and the class of things we are most familiar with: statements.
The truth of model is how closely (accurately) it models the aspect of its
referent it is supposed to represent. Now, given this model of truth and
models, it is easy to see how a lot of disagreements over the truth of something
or other are misdirected; they are really about what the referent of the model
is, or which aspect the model is supposed to represent, rather than
disagreements over accuracy.

Now, to return from that tangent, the reason I disagree with reality as Truth
is I don't think reality is a model. Sure it makes the best possible model if you
treat it as such (what could be a more accurate representation than the thing
itself?) but I don't believe its function is supposed to be a representation of
itself. It is really just a small issue of semantics, which I can easily set aside
when talking to somebody about the Truth with a capital T.

> Post-Structuralism[2] suggests otherwise; it suggests that there is no way
> we can get direct knowledge. All of our information-gathering techniques
> are flawed from the beginning, and we can't hope to overcome the
> differences. Where a structuralist would have said the task is to seperate
> the mistaken biases and interpretations from the True Structure, the
> post-structuralist says that it is all bias and interpretations, and the
> True Structure, if it exists, *cannot* be percieved. One reason for this is
> that we are beings in the world, not observers outside of it, looking in.

If that's the case then I think Science is Post-Structuralist. Or at least
there is such thing as post-structuralist science. It is still possible to
practice science, to generate ever more accurate theories, while knowing
that no theory can perfectly describe reality.

> What this does, essentially, is reduce all major schools of thought and
> discipline to "ways of seeing."

Yes, but that doesn't mean they are all equally good or accurate or

[examples of impossibility of True Sight and True Perception deleted]

I agree, though I would not have last year. Check out these
threads from the Great Truth Wars of 1996:

Postmodernism and Truth

virus: Absolute Truth

> We would certainly not say that all of us should become artists or
> botinists; however, it has been the work of both Science and Religion for

Actually if the CoV has some main messages, one of them is we all
can and should become artists and scientists, to create and understand.

> quite some time to convince people that *only* that field had the right to
> define the world for us. Listen to the Scientist say "reason is the only
> way people should approach the world." Then, listen to Religion say "logic
> and reason have no place in Religion; if you would understand the world,
> you must give them up."

Hmm, how about this then: Reason is the best way to play the Game?

> I suggest that this dichotomy between Science and Religion arose as a sort
> of power-struggle for meme-space. Religion, being in charge, politically
> speaking, rightfully saw Science as a threat to their authority --
> primarily because Religion had taken on describing the Way The World Works,
> which Science can address better. Science, of course, saw Religion as the
> Thing To Beat -- and it had to, of course, because Religion was for a very
> long time intent on stamping it out.


> Both lay claim to being ultimately correct.

No, I don't think Science ever claimed that. It merely claimed to be
more correct. Big difference.

> Post-structuralist thought says they are both wrong. They are both
> constructs of humans; they are "ways of seeing," but they are not -- and
> cannot be -- the One True Sight.

If Science does not claim that after all, then the criticism no longer applies.

> Where does this leave us? It leaves us in a rather sticky perdicament. One
> might consider trying to determine which method of seeing is "better" than
> the other, but how would we judge it? Logic dictates that logic is best.

Logic and experience. (Depending on your criteria of course. Logic never
got anybody into Heaven or saved a soul.)

> Religion, of course, dictates that Religion is best. If we take a logical
> approach -- and buy into the self-sustaining argument that David McF
> proposed -- then of course we will think that logic is the best way of
> seeing. If we take the religious approach, it will certainly not lead us to
> logic. In a way, it's a kind of "who do you trust" game.

Maybe I didn't emphasize this point in my self-sustaining argument,
but a good portion of the nodes in the self-referential net of scientific
thought consists of observational data and empirical evidence. Science
is not just theoretical mathematics holding itself up.

> We could very easily be paralized into doing nothing; attempting to
> seperate ourselves from who and what we are, and what our role is. We can
> decend into nihilism, the ultimately selfish form of hedonism[3], or
> complete absence from ourselves and our *here*ness.

I agree this would be a Bad Thing.

> Or we can take what I call the "enabling step." In other words, taking a
> leap of Faith, that what we percieve has some connection to reality.

That implies that we believe our perceptions are connected to reality
without any clear evidence (by your definition at the beginning of this
message). I don't agree. Though I agree there is no way to prove it,
I think it is wildly implausible that our perceptions are not connected
to reality.

> Fortunately, with the concept of memes, and the development of
> Post-structuralism, "ways of seeing" loose their ultimate authority over
> us. We can see them all (if we choose) as being imperfect creations created
> by an imperfect people, with an imperfect grasp on things. We can begin to
> attempt to exchange Ways of Seeing when it suits.

OK, with you so far.

> For example: science works just fine defining how things work. But when it
> comes to some issues, like Free Will, the Meaning of Life, and the like,
> science can't offer much of an explaination.

Cannot or does not currently? What if meaning is intimately tied to
causality and life can be described in terms of complexity?

> Religion shouldn't be trusted with explaining the orbits of planets. The
> maintenence and operation of Nulclear Reactors should certainly not be left
> to revival preachers.


> Now, just as we would not have everyone be an artist (who would run the
> coffee-houses?) and we would not have everyone be a botinist (who'd build
> the microscopes?) I don't think that we want everyone to be a Logic guy, or
> a Religion guy. And, just as the engineer may dabble in buddism, or the
> philosopher in computer programming, we shouldn't restrict people to one
> way of seeing.

What terrible things do you think would happen if everyone was

> Therefore, I've come to the conclusion that I came to a long time ago,
> intuitively. Now I just know how to say it, thanks to David and Eric
> particularly, and all the other people who have posted in this multi-thread:
> Postructuralism tells us that we cannot know anything ultimately. This
> anhilates the authority of the major meme-schools, all of which insist they
> have The Truth. This is the Law, that brings death, whether it's Jewish law
> (in the context of the New Testament period), or Science, or Christian law.

OK, I guess I would agree that any variety of Science that claimed to
have The Truth was annihilated by Post-structuralism.

> Memetics suggests a theory on how we *see*, which enables us (if we take
> that leap) to modify our own thinking patterns, to *learn* to see
> differently than we do, and teach others to see differently than they do,
> and lets us put off these Science- or Religion-colored specticals when the

put on?

> need arises; like when we have to face the death of our mother from cancer,
> or when we need to stop that runaway atomic reaction, and I mean pronto!

Is it possible to face the death of loved ones without religion?

> The goal, then, is a new vision of living. It is to learn how to see as
> others see, and to try to get others to see as others see, and to spread
> understanding, tolerance, and interest in other forms of vision. Like
> Buddhism, which rests on an awareness of the *here*ness of people. Like
> Christianity, which rests in the Faith of the One True Conviction. And like
> Logic, which explores concepts in detail, and keeps a check on sillyness.

What is the One True Conviction? Didn't we already dispense with
ultimate truths a couple paragraphs ago?

> And, of course, this vision of living has something that precious few of
> the dominant ones have had: both an interest in change AND a recognition of
> what it is to be an emotional human being, with perceptons and feelings
> unruled by logic.

What if emotions are logical? What if rationality depends on emotion?

> What do ya'll think? Think this might be a viable "accent of the future?"

I think we may be heading in the right direction...

David McFadzean       
Memetic Engineer      
Church of Virus