April 09, 2012

In Praise of Diversity

Our rational lives are precarious because our intellectual landscapes are littered with inconsistencies.  This can lead to despair; as Leonard Cohen puts it: “everybody knows that the boat is leaking, everybody knows that the captain lied”[1].  This is the refrain of the 99% and various similar protest movements.  Logic weighs in with the result that anything can be derived from a contradiction.  To the extent that we are all conflicted, there is no telling what we are each capable of.  But what does universal consistency look like?  Would it be a healthier state of affairs?  Whatever it looks like, a single model of reality runs the risk of being universally wrong.  This pushed Paul Feyerabend to advocate for science to be dethroned and treated like any other other field of inquiry.  I think that goes too far (after all, science has experienced the kind of successes that deserve special attention).  Still, I agree that our survival depends on the maximal diversity of our conceptual schemes and models ... If only to spread the risk of being wrong and increase the chances of discovering useful schemes.  This is why our conflicting commitments are both a source of problems and the basis of our salvation. 

[1] “Everybody Knows”, words and music by Leonard Cohen and Sharon Robinson. 

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