Thursday, August 18, 2011

Response to Kent Barshov

I responded to Kent on July 30th:

Hi Kent,
Thank you so much for the thorough response to The Metropolis Organism. I appreciate the positive comments you made on the book and also the references you brought into the discussion.
I have read about Brand before but the series How Buildings Learn is new to me. I watched the first episode and look forward to watching more. The title reminds me of a book that came out recently by Kevin Kelly titled What Technology Wants. I bought it and loved the lengthy introduction but had trouble with the rest of the book for reasons that I will explain later. I had read a little on transhumanism but not sure if I have read anything about Arth. I'll keep an eye out for his film and for Baraka.
I fully understand your feeling that the idea of a city as an organism is good as a metaphor but nothing more. However, the purpose of my book is to move the idea beyond that. I'd like to tell you some of my philosophical narrative and hear what you think.
When you choose to think of a city as organism as a metaphor, it is implicit that you feel you have to choose between either a city is an organism or a city is not an organism. That makes perfect sense on the surface but I think it is more complicated than that.
Let me go back almost 50 years to when I first discovered physics in high school. I fell in love with physics and was a wiz at it. But it didn't take long before I discovered the deterministic implications of physics. I was flying high intellectually at the time and the determinism dilemma brought me crashing down. I had been able to figure out so much, why couldn't I figure out what was wrong with this apparent conflict between science and the free will I knew I had?
I spent 10 years struggling with the Determinism Dilemma. I thought it was because I was dumb or twisted, so I was greatly relieved when I discovered philosophy of science and learned that the great philosophers through the centuries had struggled with the dilemma and had gotten nowhere with it.
During that time I read nobel laureate Peter Medawar's The Limits of Science. Like many, I thought that the power of science was limitless. But Medawar sowed me that science has clear limits. As he says 'science is a house with empirical furniture.' It can tell us anything about physical, measurable things. But it can tell us absolutely nothing about non-empirical things, like where we came from, the purpose of life, in short anything spiritual.
Next I made something I call the Einstein Maneuver. In the early part of the 20th Century experimental physics kept giving apparently contradictory results. They did experiment after experiment trying to resolve the contradiction. The stunning thing that Einstein did was to accept the contradictory results "without further appeal" and he made them the primacies of his new theory.
My maneuver was to accept that I both had freewill and didn't. From my humanistic perspective, I have freewill. From the perspective of science I do not. I was greatly gratified when I came across the book of another Nobel Laureate, physicist Erwin Schrodinger. In his book What Is Life? He eloquently summed up my point of view:
“(i) My body functions as a pure mechanism according to the Laws of Nature.
         (ii) Yet I know, by incontrovertible direct experience, that I am directing its motions, by which I foresee the effects, that may be fateful and all important, in which case I feel and take full responsibility for them.”
Though people still debate the Determinism Dilemma, I think it is time to accept the results of our philosophical investigations "without further appeal." We are both free and determined. Having spent some time with this result, it seems obvious that we don't have any other choice and that rather than debating the dilemma our time would be better spent trying to find out how contradictory realties can exist. I have my own speculative thoughts that have to do with the nature of science, but I don't think they are germane to the point I am trying to make.
In my mind I have separated scientific reality and humanistic reality. They are independent and have nothing to do with each other. I think mixing these two worlds up is confusing and not productive. For example, there are evolutionists and creationists arguments everywhere. I think these discussions are pointless. Evolution is in the domain of science and creationism is in the domain of humanistic spirituality and they have nothing to do with each other. Philosopher of science Ernest Nagle described theoretical science as looking at "the relations of dependence among things irrespective to their bearing on human values." (my italics) Probably the greatest philosopher of science, Karl Popper, wrote, "It is important to realize that science does not make assertions about ultimate questions – about the riddles of existence, or about man’s task in this world. This has often been well understood. But some great scientists, and many lesser ones, have misunderstood the situation. The fact that science cannot make any pronouncement about ethical principles has been misinterpreted as indicating that there are no such principles while in fact the search for truth    presupposes ethics.”
So, it is from the perspective of science that I say that cities are organisms.
As I write to you from the Starbucks in Nyack, NY, I hope this finds you well. I want you to know that I very much appreciate having someone to discuss this with.
All best,

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