Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Reconsidering Speculation

Originally posted on February 13, 2009

Speculation is a word that implies to some a less-worthy category than, say, knowing, or deducing. The latter have the aura of greater maturity, more certainty. However, I want to suggest a reversal of valuing here, at least in some arenas. There are a number of mysteries and domains about which we know very little. One of these areas involves the grand questions of where do we come from, where are we going (as individuals or as a species), and of course the big what’s-it-all-about. The idea that philosophy not only could but should be able to figure these things out seems to me to be impertinent and foolish, for the following reasons.

In the last few centuries we have been opening a variety of new domains—in the realms of astronomy (e.g., other galaxies), microbiology (e.g., bacteria, then viruses), micro-physics (e.g., atoms, sub-atomic particles, dynamics, quarks, etc.) , the electromagnetic spectrum, the complexities of biology, new categories and domains in mathematics (e.g., fractals), and so forth. Our historiography has also expanded so that we can better climpse the sheer complexity of history, and note also the trends in fashion from summary generalizations to a plethora of exceptions. History now includes the stories of the losers, the oppressed, and the byways of almost-rans. The point here is that it would be presumptuous to think that we are now at the apex of knowledge, and instead it would be wiser to open not only to their being more knowledge coming, but profound shifts of paradigms of thinking, horizons opened that cast new light on our fundamental assumptions.

My own preference is the idea that we may begin to appreciate more and in more ways the idea that mind itself is a dimension or category of phenomena that affects all other categories—matter, energy, time, and space—and that we may learn to work with imagination and mind in ways as yet almost inconceivable. I’m into the idea lately of “imagination development,” as if we might learn to develop our capacities for imagination (and self-hypnosis) far more than what is presently done, analogous to the way once the technology of writing was developed in the three thousand years before the common era it became possible to develop more reflective ways of thinking, giving birth to logic, philosophy, and a systematic approach to re-evaluating self-deception.

Another problem with the presumptions of philosophy is that there can be a process of greedy-grasping—a combination word I’ve coined to communicate the deep attitude of wanting to know or have that is essentially illusory. The illusion is that if we know where we’re going, that it would make it easier to get there. I think that’s a tiny bit true, but it evokes a magical thinking that discounts the problems of actually getting there. As an analogy, if we wanted to go to some far-off city, having an accurate map would be a help. However, there would also need to be quite a number of other not-insignificant problems. What mode of transportation would we use, and has it yet been invented? What about all the inventions needed to result in that main modality? (If it’s a car or plane, there are a million inventions and refinements and other infrastructures needed just to make one of those machines!) Then there’s a similar problem with fuel; and restaurants, motels, road-building, other provisions—millions of elements that must be in place to achieve a journey—even if the map is perfect.

In other words, certain kinds of speculation are useful, and other kinds that are more immediate in sequence are also useful. Attempts to reason out the far reaches of ultimacy may be functional distractions rather than aids. Such distinctions are worth keeping in mind.

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