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Alan Moore on Science and Imagination

Alan Moore was recently interviewed by New Humanist magazine while backstage at the “Nine Lessons for Godless People” show, and the video has been posted on YouTube (see below). It’s a wonderfully typical chat with the renowned story-teller, with Moore quickly pointing out that, in the context of some of the ideas in cosmology these days that rationalists find credible, “my worship of a 2nd century sock-puppet snake god seems entirely reasonable.”

What I did want to share though was his response to the question “Is there a conflict between what can and can’t be proven by science”, as it echoes my thoughts almost exactly (though he’s far more eloquent on the topic than I could hope to be):

I would prefer a two-state solution. My basic premise is that human beings are amphibious, in the etymological sense of ‘two lives’. We have one life in the solid material world that is most perfectly measured by science. Science is the most exquisite tool that we’ve developed for measuring that hard, physical, material world. Then there is the world of ideas which is inside our head. I would say that both of these worlds are equally real – they’re just real in different ways. The concept of a world of ideas, yes it’s intangible, it can’t be repeated in a laboratory, but pretty much the evidence for it is all around us. In that, every detail of our clothing, our mindsets, of the buildings and the streets and cities that surround us – that started life as an idea in someone’s head.

Terence McKenna mentioned something along similar lines once, though his point was going in a different direction: “We take in matter that has a low degree of organization; we put it through mental filters, and we extrude jewelry, gospels, space shuttles. This is what we do.” I think that the word ‘reality’ has come to be intimately connected to a definition of “what is measurable”, when it should perhaps be more connected to something along the lines of “things that can create change in the world”.

Anyhow, enough of my 2 cent philosophizing: here’s Mr Moore:

And for those (like me) that have been perplexed about Alan Moore’s presence at a number of ‘rationalist’ events (including Randi’s conference a couple of years back), he’s not shy in mentioning dogmatism amongst certain scientists as well:

Rationalism is under siege, by all of these witless…Fundamentalist Christians… that tends to unfortunately, to drive scientists – who are obviously concerned by those possibilities – into an almost religious position themselves…. the problem with religions is that generally, they develop dogmas, which are limitations to thought, and are never a good thing.

I can’t help but wonder how Alan Moore would be treated at these events if he was just an ordinary Joe off the street, saying the exact same words…

  1. Philosophical Hirsutism

    I can’t help but wonder how Alan Moore would be treated at these events if he was just an ordinary Joe off the street, saying the exact same words…

    Well, the beard *does* help. After all, these chaps are conditioned to regard facial hair as a sign of wisdom 😉

  2. You nailed it
    [quote=Greg]I think that the word ‘reality’ has come to be intimately connected to a definition of “what is measurable”, when it should perhaps be more connected to something along the lines of “things that can create change in the world”.

    Oh yes!

    That could well be my quote of the year.

    1. Aren’t things that create
      Aren’t things that create change not exactly at the sharp end of the pointy measuring stick?

      It is when things are said to exist that create no measurable change, only create change within measurement error, only create change of types and amounts predicted by alternative hypothesis, theory or law, or create change already competently predictable and describable by other theory or law, that we have difficulty.

      When I dream about the Elf People of Alpha-Prime they can make me happy and go about my day in a productive way – a way I might add that is perfectly in-sync and explainable by pschologists without declaring the Elf People or Alpha Prime to be as real as the measurable atoms composing my finger-tips. Equally the Elf People can never be caught doing anything at all, nor can Alpha Prime ever by visited by anyone except perhaps me, though it is likely I cannot even do that.

      Equally importantly to any definition of reality capable of capturing the nuances between thoughts, actions, atoms, forces, waves etc in several years time when we have both forgotten this conversation we will both continue to exist. The Elf People of Alpha Prime are a highly endangered species. There are billions of them, trillions even spanning half of this universe. Half have purple hair and half have green. They have built amazing technology and beautiful art, but tomorrow, when I have forgotten them they will all be gone. They have no reality outside my brain doodle. They affect nothing, do nothing. A definition of reality has to be able to tell the difference. At least until the Elf People, and all out imaginative creations, show up.

      Next life maybe….

  3. Relativism
    I think what we really see here is more a dispute over what the word ‘reality’ means (to state the obvious, though I do mean more the word rather than the more traditional ‘what the word refers to’ notion), but more than just that it is a dispute about values.

    I see very little argument that the material world does not exist or is not important in some fundamental way, but instead a value system extending importance to other things, of which there are many.

    It is relativistic in the sense that the importance given to individual concepts differs per individual and would be described as ‘subjective’ etc.

    I find it natural to embody idea’s as highly important when drawing a line between purely mechanistic as well as random events as compared to ‘life’ – as well as the emergence of ‘ideas’ through complexity from simple life forms that follow chemical gradients without awareness to simple lifeforms with simple neural networks that create the appearance of choice occurring (and because of the hard/easy problem of philosophy arguably real choice occurring). Evolution is intricately linked with choice and ideas and so ideas play an intricate roll in the evolution of life from 2+ billion years ago (or where-ever we draw the line between the emergence of ‘choice’ in living systems right the way through to control and shaping of an animals environment and communication).

    So to me I would not immediately jump at the necessity to differentiate between ‘physical reality’ and the mental component.

    This does make me wonder about virtual worlds though – to what degree we could live in one, perhaps with others (or by uploading our brains etc – scifi like), and still underpin meaning in the same sense.

    We may have to wait well beyond our lifetimes for that, but I would be interested to see what philosophers would make of the meaning of meaning when being lived in a world that was purely imaginary. I like the notion because of course, the material world might be little more – and hence why ‘meaning’ and ‘reality’ really are so affected by subjective and personal definitions.

    1. Behind the Cosmic Veil
      My dear Daydreamer, I hope you had a wonderful Xmas holiday with your family 🙂

      May I suggest you listen to this interview with a guy named Paul Fusco, who recently wrote the book Behind the Cosmic Veil.

      I think you might find his ideas interesting, and relevant to the discussions we’ve had in the past 🙂

      1. Hi RPJ,
        Same to you friend.

        Hi RPJ,

        Same to you friend. Hope you had a fantastic Christmas. We had a great time. The kids got lots of presents from Santa and I ate enough sprouts to give me wind for a week.

        I have started downloading the link. Nearly 80mb! I can see this is going to rob me of several days thinking time by the time I have listened to it and argued with myself enough before coming back here with whatever brain farts remain.

        Merry Christmas period!!!!

  4. What Can and Can’t be Proven by Science
    There is no difference between science and science fiction or fantasy. These are words created by humans to categorize what is essentially real territory, some discovered and some yet to be known. Just because we have not gained knowledge of all things does not mean that all real things are limited to our capacity to understand and classify. That’s why we find those seemingly imaginary ideas so fascinating and intriguing. Deep in our beings we sense they are rich in truth, teeming with possibilities for reality. The prospects for actuality are limitless, uncomprehendingly complex, and present mind numbing potential for multiple universes, macro and micro realms without limit, eternal enlightenment for any cognizant being capable of traveling there and beholding. We humans should ponder a little more deeply before we start conclusively announcing what is real and what is simply a figment of the imagination in an active human mind living on this planet.

    1. I understand the underlying
      I understand the underlying point, but the idea that people have not pondered deeply before building machines worth billion of dollars to search for their imaginings, often called crazy or narrow-minded by the masses and many colleagues since disagreement is rife, is a step in metaphor I am less willing to take. It looks alot more like another style of disagreement rather than a wholesale lack of imagination or effort on the part of anyone who does not think about the world in any particular manner.

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