Saturday, June 25, 2016

Henry Dawson's microbial complexity --- vs civilized simplicity

Whenever I tell someone that my book in set during WWII and contrasts microbial intelligence versus civilized stupidity, this often quickly leads to an argument over whether anyone but humans can show true intelligence.

(I suppose this is progress, of a sort - we are long past people claiming that only middle class protestant white males are capable of exhibiting true intelligence.)

But as a consequence, I am recasting my book's main theme as the contrast between 'microbial complexity' and 'civilized simplicity'.
People are now quite willing to grant microbes complex behavior, based I suppose on constant news reports of wily microbes quickly rendering the best of humanity's new medicines useless.

But now the questions shifts to how dare I claim that advanced civilizations are 'simple', when really they are the most complex ?

I try to explain that while microbes and humans (and indeed all of life and reality) are of course incredibly complex, western civilization, particularly between the 1860s and 1960s, quite deliberately chose to believe that the underlying core of reality was quite simple and that western civilization alone was creatively complex - and further, chose to act as if that belief had been confirmed.

I go on to explain that while science's technological probes (newer more sensitive instruments) tends to reveal an ever more complex Reality, the theoretical thrust of Science continues to claim that there is a much simpler reality, hidden somewhere underneath all that surface complexity.

This has been a claim of Natural Philosophy/Pure Science for thousands of years and far from being proved up, has been constantly refuted, but as an article of faith rather than facts, the scientists holding it are completely unbowed.

Hard 'reductionism', basically the claim that the scaled up behavior of incredibly tiny sub atomic particles is all that is needed to explain the behavior of entire vast Universes, is a good shorthand for this vision of reality.

In practical terms, it is the firm belief that the highly simplified explanations of reality produced by lab experiments that deliberately leave out most of the real world's messy variables and unknowns, while only a fuzzy approximation to reality, are both 'good enough' and yet somehow superior to messy reality, particularly being so simple to follow.

In the particular case of my book, I argue that the simple-preferring scientism of the era of Modernity (1865-1965 approximately) was the unconscious reaction by the western middle class against the unexpectedly complex consequences of the processes of modernization, a process that they themselves had set in motion.

Modernity, in particular, deliberately cast out as much evilness as possible from advanced western civilization and attached it instead to the lowest, smallest, weakest, oldest (and supposedly simplest) forms of life.

Meanwhile advanced western civilizations, at the very top of the hierarchy of Life, was supposed to hold all the morality and all the creative complexity.

I argue that the real objective of the separating all Life into two opposing extremes of the white hats versus the black hats, was to smear by implication all of humanity just below the most 'advanced' civilizations.

Dawson, by contrast, in effect credited all lifeforms (microbes and 4Fs humans, as well as 1A humans) with having various forms of complexity (intelligence), in a horizontal based vision of Life and that all this complexity refuted the simple model of reality held by faith by middle class Modernity.

This viewpoint decidedly clashed with Modernity's claim that the earliest smallest lifeforms had almost no complexities and that rising in a strictly vertical hierarchy of Life, most lifeforms and most races of Humanity had very few complexities, until we come to the European white race....

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