|When people are learning to draw other people, we often start out by making a picture of sort of squiggly mass. After a while we learn to create an outline that will define the bounded area of the person. This exercise of drawing lines around things does not necessarily create the most truthful picture. In some ways people are constructed much more like squiggly masses than like bounded shapes: our atomic quanta are always jiggling, and we can never pin down both the mass and the velocity at the same time. But the boundaries of representation are far from arbitrary. We delineate entities because we interact with one another and the world as integrated, interested beings.
In her book Science and Poetry, philosopher Mary Midgley takes issue with the atomistic view of the world.
Current scientific concepts are not adapted to focusing on subjectivity. Indeed, many of them have been carefully adapted to exclude it, much like cameras with a colour filter. [...] Galileo and Descartes saw how badly the study of objects had been distorted by people who treated these objects as subjects, people who credited things like stones with human purpose and striving. So they ruled that physical science must be objective. And this quickly came to mean, not just that scientists must be fair, but that they should treat everything they studied only as a passive, insentient object. We may be able nimble enough with abstract thought and visualizations to theoretically break ourselves down into small enough bits that motivation is lost and the wilderness of disinterested matter reigns over our very sense of self. We are aware that a tiny, indifferent neutrinos pass through us constantly, leaving both of our material bodies unaffected. This knowledge may challenge us to envision existential extremes, but we need not remain lost in this vast, uncaring wilderness. In fact we have no choice, and while we remain alive we are one with the messy, compassionate narrative that is humanity.
We know that abstraction made possible three centuries of tremendous scientific advance about physical objects. Today, however, this advance has itself led to a point where consciousness has again to be considered. Enquiries are running against the limits of this narrow focus. In many areas, the advantages of ignoring ourselves have run out.
This has happend most notoriously in quantum mechanics, where physicists have begun to use the idea of an observer quite freely as a casual factor in the events they study. Whether or not this is the best way to interpret quantum phenomena, that development is bound to make people ask what sort of an entity an observer is, since Ocam's Razor has so far failed to get rid of it. This disturbance, however, is only one symptom of a growing pressure on the supposedly subject-proof barrier, a pressure that is due to real growth in all the studies that lie close to it.
(quoted from Mary Midgley, Science and Poetry, (Routledge) 2001, p.84)
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