Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Potentiality vs. Actuality

I posted this over at the Lawnchair Philosopher, but the way it ended up going, I thought it would be appropriate in this forum, as well.

I woke up this morning with this gnawing at me, so here goes...

A while back, I posted this... http://antinatalism.blogspot.com/2008/02/richard-dawkins-blindspot.html ... on my antinatalism blog. Included is a quote by Richard Dawkins, which includes the following section...

"The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here."

Now, I'm no statistician, so maybe somebody could enlighten me, but couldn't the same point be made about every grain of sand in Arabia? Or, for that matter, for each and every atom in the entire universe? Looked at in this way, doesn't Mr. Dawkin's argument make every single sub-atomic occurrence happening in a particular time and place seem incredibly unlikely, and thus, unbelievably remarkable? This 'stupefying odds' invocation smacks of mathematical hucksterism to me, being an attempt to breathe a sense of awe into an otherwise quite unremarkable fact: namely, that existence is exactly what it is, and that potentiality (when used as above) is nothing more than the lubrication required for a good mind fuck. Not much different than the sort of analysis creationists use to calculate God into existence, in my view. Same spirit behind the attempt as well, i.e. worship.

In Mr. Dawkin's case, of course, it's life worship instead of god worship, with many of the elements of argumentation being eerily similar-Play with numbers to make the utterly commonplace seem extraordinarily unique. Ignore or downplay the negative or questionable aspects of your 'deity'. Subtly displace hard reasoning with emotional biases...'God is good; feel Him within!' Or, 'Life is good; feel the gentle rain on your face.'

Of course, I might be countered by the argument that this particular confluence of forces which created this world, this life, and these immensely complicated human brains could reasonably be understood as being an especially unique occurrence. I'd concur, but with one overarching caveat, that being a big, fat 'so what?' Ever since the orginal broken symmetries of the primordial universe (if it can be said that there was EVER an utterly homogenous state...not sure about that one), existence has tended to 'clump' ; sometimes in interesting ways, of which we are one (does it strike anyone else that finding ourselves the most interesting structures in the universe is a bit...narcissistic?). Still not a reason to wax overly optimistic...overall, life is an ugly mess, and everything alive suffers and dies.

That's all, folks!

No comments: