Follow Up: Elephant Analogy

In my last entry, I pointed out that perhaps the Jain version of the elephant story is the best.  The point of it is that truth can be expressed in a variety of ways, none of them being completely incorrect, but none being completely correct either.  You might think of it as an ancient version of postmodernism in that it treats differing views on the same topic as merely being different narratives about the same object.  Such abstractions can describe the properties of an object but never truly convey its nature.

The following is an excerpt from an essay I wrote in college while in a particularly cynical mood.

“The blindness that adherence to a religion often engenders is not confined solely to those who are members of a group or institution that we define as a religion.  In this 21st century, science and reason, those entities often perceived as enemies of and antidotes to religion, are beginning to be corrupted by the same phenomenon that plagues entrenched spiritual traditions.  Unquestioning obedience to and belief in one system or set of systems as the lens through which the universe is perceived and filtered, that is the phenomenon.  It is to be avoided at all times because it leads to stagnation and a dangerous fundamentalistic arrogance, an unwillingness to accept or analyze that which is new or different in an appropriate way.  The dislike of the new or different that this phenomenon creates is a danger to the very survival of our species because it frustrates the essential ingredient needed for us to evolve, change.  If this phenomenon is allowed to rule us, we may quickly find that we have driven ourselves into an evolutionary dead-end and consigned our species to an embarrassing self-termination.

Unfortunately, many of those who should be protecting us from this phenomenon, atheists and agnostics, have succumbed to the same weakness that they often despise in the followers of religions.  They find self-satisfying security in scientific knowledge and logic that make them feel intellectually superior, growing increasingly complacent in their belief that they have the one truth, much like the religious persons who find security in faith and ritual while believing arrogantly that they have the one truth.  Both types are foolish fundamentalists, each despising the flaw that pollutes both of them, but only seeing it in the other, ignoring their own tragic weakness in a display of hypocrisy at its finest.”

So am I harsh, but fair?  Just harsh?  Just fair?

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One Response to Follow Up: Elephant Analogy

  1. Harsh, maybe, but it is accurate. I never looked at the elephant analogy as a form of postmodernism, but that does work. In studying the philosophy of economics–and arguing for its scientific efficacy–I’ve come to realize that this postmodern critique is even more severe. You see, in many disciplines, including physics, science has progressed through metaphorical analogies. We don’t know if the entities posited by some theory are real or essential to nature, but they work for the purposes of our description, to fit the empirical data and allow us to make accurate predictions. So suppose someone is analyzing the trunk of the elephant. It is not enough that they are giving an accurate description by saying the beast is a long snake-like creature. While the description is accurate to the empirical information they have, suppose they speculate on this creatures digestive system, etc. Now they would be talking nonsense! But suppose such a description is accurate to what is going on. Only upon a larger body of knowledge–and consequent theories–would we realize that what is being so called a digestive system is actually something entirely other, even though the descriptions were accurate to what was actually going on. 

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