Letters to the Editor

Shifting views

April 29, 2010


To the editor:

Oh, Mr. Hickam, you are such a pessimist (Public Forum, April 26). You think of the Journal-World’s “revisit(ing) the year of 1970” in Lawrence as merely “to dredge up” our hard times history.

The American philosopher George Santayana is quoted as wisely saying that those who ignore the past are condemned to repeat it. You and I may not agree on the sagacity of that phrase. If so, we can simply agree to disagree.

But there’s another reason for valuing the telling of our town’s history. Best guess is that 70 percent or more of our 2010 residents were either not yet born or too young to be aware and/or living somewhere else in 1970.

The “difficult to match” quality of life in Lawrence that Everett Hickam values (as do I) is, I believe, linked more to knowledge (of our past and present) than to ignorance of same.

The Lawrence I experienced in the 1950s and ’60s was radically (conservatively?) different from the community that has evolved since then. Our town made what some call “a paradigm shift.” We took a different direction (however imperfectly) in our approach to human and civil rights.

We’ve a lot more to fear from sweeping knowledge (of past and/or present) under the table and out of sight than getting it into public view where folks like Everett and I can talk (or even argue) about it.


Kirk Larson 5 years, 1 month ago

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Like all times.

mr_right_wing 5 years, 1 month ago

How'd they have time to burn down the Kansas Union...weren't they all at Woodstock??

devobrun 5 years, 1 month ago

Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. In the first stage of life the mind is frivolous and easily distracted, it misses progress by failing in consecutiveness and persistence. This is the condition of children and barbarians, in which instinct has learned nothing from experience. George Santayana, The Life of Reason, Volume 1, 1905 US (Spanish-born) philosopher (1863 - 1952)

Lost in the abbreviated version of Santayana's version of knowledge is the equating of infants and "savages" and "barbarians". But the hippies who dug up the abridged version ignored the racist part. They also ignored the history that preceded them. They shifted the paradigm. They broke with traditional ways of gaining knowledge.

The paradigm shift was a rejection of Karl Popper. Yep, the rational insistence upon testing for refutation was abandoned by the sloppy hippie who imposed reality on people through drugs, and new forms of isms. Virtual reality and knowledge infused with urgency is the order of today. Science based on predictions from computer models and other forms of blasphemy is the rejection of all pre-hippie history. The arrogance is tangible and a complete rejection of the history of mistakes. Computer models and scientific consensus don't make mistakes.

We act out of desperation and fear rather than slow acquisition of new knowledge which fits into the knowledge of old. We are like teenagers with short attention spans......history, what for history? The rationalism of pre-hippie history is lost. We teach our children the 1970s because it is the beginning of all they really need to know, right?

Ken Lassman 5 years, 1 month ago

Devo, It was the rationalists who swept under the rug previous traditions and cultures with the labels of barbarians, savages, and even the incredible developmental stages that occur during infancy. Racism found a very comfortable home with the rationalists as well--you only have to look at the lockstep precision of the holocaust to see that. Questioning the straight-jacket blinders of rationalism (notice it is an "-ism" in that it has its own political history and biases) was an important step in reclaiming the biological basis of our reality instead of blindly accepting the purely mechanistic bent of the rationalist pendulum swing.

I recently enjoyed the observation that the western scientific and political "progress" follows a dynamic that can be described as being Hegelian in nature: thesis, antithesis, synthesis, whereas many religious traditions can be more accurately be described the following way: thesis, antithesis, antithesis, antithesis....

In many ways, the latter dynamic also describes the scientific tradition as well, the difference being that instead of sacred texts to measure against, it is empirical data that is measured. Indeed even the analytic tradition of the physical sciences has uncovered perplexing complexities that only modeling can tease out.

Biology is a more slippery subject in that the universal constants that guide much of the empirical world of the physical sciences are still there but the complexities involved in the DNA-informed organic chemistry of organisms with the added layer of metabolic regulation provided by populations, ecosystems and ultimately the entire biosphere as it interacts with the rest of the universe makes the whole story much more complicated than the pure causality advocated by the rationalists. Honoring the value of intact ecosystems describes Santayana's value of retention as well as anything, keeping in mind that this old planet has seen wave after wave of healthy ecosystems replaced. We need to find ways to honor the legacy of life that has preceded us by honoring the legacy of life that exists today.

devobrun 5 years, 1 month ago

Sorry, Doug, I find your entry to be nonsense. Hegel and historicist is antithetical to Popper. It is nonlinear, non-reductionist and fruitless. He is to engineering as Freud is to psychology. All talk, no chalk.

Questioning the straight jacket blinders of rationalism is wrong. The church had the blinders on. Galileo pulled one of the blinders up. Newton removed them entirely. The age of questioning authority began. Reductionism suffered only from the attempts at logical positivism. Torn down by Russel (an adherent) and Popper, who offered a way out of the very "straight jacket blinders" that you refer to.

The Idea is that first and foremost, we don't know. We can only approach truth. This leaves even the most believable argument open to scrutiny. Good.

In Popperian philosophy, empiricism is supported by the test. A test is not just gathering of evidence or running a computer program. The veracity of the argument is based upon the quantity and quality of the test. It is insufficient to merely gather evidence and pontificate, gather evidence and support in a positive sense. You gotta do it.

That would be the science that was rejected by the hippies. Armed with new theories from Kuhn, they cheery-picked him too and shifted the paradigm away from reduction. Modeling is the result. Complexities cannot be teased out by computers. The new paradigm of modeling is a false knowledge. It is overwrought. Computer models claim far more than they can deliver. Complex computer models allow theories to be tested only on the machine. Experiments are run on the machine.

They aren't experiments. The model runs are model runs, they do not tease out anything but the modeler's bias.

Lemme simplify your last paragraph. Ecosystems are so complicated that test-based science is impossible, so we'll make up a new way of asserting our knowledge. [Notice I said asserting, not discovering.] We will honor the existence of operational ecosystems and value them. This "emotional" method will propel us to continue learning even in the face of defeat. We will use weasel words to mask our ignorance and continue to be motivated, funded, and busy.....even though we really don't know squat about the complex system. We will incorporate things like chaos theory. This is the most sophisticated obfuscation yet.

The LTE and subsequent responses is about the history of 1970. The first earth day. Science as measured by urgency. Rational thought improved by incorporating emotion. The shift to virtual reality. The shift to created reality.

So today we have a plethora of laws, and none of them applied. Kinda like the federal laws regarding immigration. We are living a mess of information and little knowledge and no wisdom. I call it the age of hippies.

devobrun 5 years, 1 month ago

Doug: I've been contemplating your first sentence over and over. Here's something that I think happens in your brain that is different than mine.

"It was the rationalists who swept under the rug previous traditions and cultures with the labels of barbarians, savages, and even the incredible developmental stages that occur during infancy."

Incredible developmental stages that occur during infancy is this: the incredible rate of change of knowledge that occurs during infancy.

Not the level, but the rate of level. It can be shown that in a time series the value of the variable and rate of the variable are uncorrelated. Given a function F(t), which is differentiable everywhere, the derivatives are orthogonal.

So, while Santayana refers to savages and barbarians as infants, which is racist........ You take his words as ignoring the rate of development of the infants. Two different (and and uncorrelated ) things. Infants grow. Isn't it great! Barbarians and savages apparently do not.

So the statement by Santayana is racist.

Back to the 70s...

What causes racism to still exist?

All the radicals, uprisings, violence, rage, and ultimately lame subjugation of the ruling class. What a waste of an opportunity was the 1970s. The Beetles disbanded, and the Stones went disco, and Dylan went nowhere.

And soul turned into hip hop. And the hippies won, but they screwed it up. Because they forgot the historical lesson that rational thought yields results.

Ken Lassman 5 years ago

Nobody said that Hegel had anything to do with engineering. He has everything to do with the nature of epistemology. I brought him up as an aside anyway, contrasting his attributed dialectic to an alternative dialectic that has been suggested to describe religion's grappling with reality.

We both agree that Galileo removed dogmatic blinders, and while Newton removed even more, he certainly didn't remove them all, which was my point. Pure causality is much easier to attribute and model when you are dealing with simple configurations of masses in movement, but much more problematic when you add in chemistry and complexity to systems, let alone life forms organized by trophic levels, element cycling and, heaven forbid, consioussness and behavior. Modeling at this level is an essential tool for understanding and is not fundamentally different from (indeed is guided by) mathematics, the original modeling language of science. Both create a conditional body of knowledge, i.e. cannot be proven in an absolute way due to the nature of empirically based knowledge. .

The scientific revolution has had its dogmatic impulses that have thrown out many babies with the bathwater, just as religion has done, though, and one could say that the 60s and 70s was a Hegelian reaction to the straightjacketed science of the 40s and 50s which not only brought us great leaps in humanizing technologies but also of dehumanizing technologies. One could say that we live in the subsequent synthesis cycle, or perhaps a cycle or two more after that today, but for me, the dialectic theory is more an aesthetic than a real epistemological breakthrough. So perhaps we agree on that too?

Finally, infant development is not just a quantitative accumulation of information; large scale qualitative leaps are made all along the way, as the system grows from sensory stimulation, which strengthens some systems, lets others fall away, integrating the systemic feedback it receives as it grows. You need a different model to understand life--your theory does not do a good job at all of describing the observed data and its dynamics.

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