as if / Creativity / Ethics / Ideology / Incompleteness / Philosophy / Religion

Partial Views

File:Into The Light by Glen Josselsohn Contemporary Modern Artist.jpg

Our view of the world is incomplete. The world always has more properties than our descriptions, theories and ideas about it can describe. But we don’t have a shared incomplete view. Instead, each of us has a different partial view with different gaps, errors and blurred areas, different from those of others, although in many cases, there are overlaps.

We communicate in order to increase these overlaps and even out the differences, but in many cases, this only creates opportunities to combine ideas in novel ways. And by our very creativity, we add to the multiplicity of phenomena in the world, thus opening up new gaps in our understanding of it.

The inherent incompleteness of our knowledge thus leads to the multitude of individual views, of different cultures, of incompatible scientific approaches and paradigms.  Look into a library or a bookshop with its thousands or hundreds of thousands of books about different topics. Look into the internet with its sprouting multiplicity of pages. The more knowledge we acquire, the more our cultures fragment and diversify.

Some people lament this. Some people seem to be unable to bear this situation of unavoidable incompleteness of knowledge. Some people build around themselves an artificial order, be it a religion or another type of ideology, pretending to be in the possession of the complete and true knowledge. In doing so, they blind themselves to large parts of the world and to the views and lives of many others. The world cannot be captured in a single book and even a single book cannot be captured in a single interpretation. Ideologies, including dogmatic religions, are as-if-constructions that pretend to be reality. History is full of cases where such closed world-views claiming absolute truth have led to violence.

If the fundamental impossibility of arriving at a complete world view leads to unavoidable diversity both of individuals and of groups or cultures, should not the consequence therefore be to cultivate tolerance and openness instead of dogma and ideology?

(The picture is from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Into_The_Light_by_Glen_Josselsohn_Contemporary_Modern_Artist.jpg?uselang=de)

19 thoughts on “Partial Views

    • In premodern times, they could live a simple life in which everything seemed to fit. The great chain of beeing was unbroken. The more complex civilization has become, the more they seem to feel challenged by it, resulting in that “noise”. Fundamentalism is a modern phenomenon or a reaction to modernity and enlightenment. You can see this both in Christian sects and in parts of Islam.

  1. I agree that tolerance is necessary. It seems that to maintain sanity each person has to construct some framework in order to make sense of life, and of course that framework also depends on where the person lives, money, health, etc. The problem comes when people don’t realize they actually have constructed a reality but take it for granted it IS reality, the only reality – and therefore can’t and don’t acknowledge the validity of others’ realities and try to work with them.

    So that’s where the tolerance comes in. I am hopeful things will continue in that direction in our world.

  2. I love that you chose the painting to describe your feelings. You write (and think) so well and in my opinion, complete…

    • Thanks for the flattery :-), but my view, I am sure, is just as incomplete as anybody elses. It helps, though, to have understood that.

    • Actually it was you who provided the inspiration for this article by posting http://manoftheword.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/invisible-college-shirky.pdf. There I read: “They abandoned the spiritual depths of alchemy for a continually incomplete grappling with what was real, a task so daunting that no one person could take it on alone.” That resonated with my own ideas about incompleteness and creativity. As you might know, Umberto Eco once wrote: “Authors frequently say things they are unaware of; only after they have gotten the reactions of their readers do they discover what they have said” 😉

      • now that’s encouraging. i’m honored to have conducted stimulus. to have collectively furthered incompletion. My high school senior son & I had a 2-hour conversation last night about his theory/definition of “knowledge” as “that which cannot be attained” – inherently incomplete – this morning I forwarded your lovely post 🙂 Thank you.

        • My ideas about incompleteness are connected to Kurt Ammon’s definition of creativity. He defines creativity as the ability to calculate non-(Turing)-computable functions. That amounts to the ability to develop out of the scope of aplicability of any theory about how cognition works. You can always augment the theory afterwards, but the resulting theory is incomplete again. If any theory about cognition (and therefore about humans) is incomplete, so is any theory about human culture. So creativity “furthers incompletion” :-). Here I also see the reason why the humanities (or cultural sciences, as I would like to call them) can never be unified into one single consistent framework.
          Incompleteness is thus the back side of creativity. They are the two sides of the same medal.

          • indeed – I accord so much with your principles…and I must thank you for the references of Ammon – communication with him has been most beneficial and influential for me in understanding computation and incompleteness.

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