Monday, September 17, 2012

excerpts from Marilynne Robinson's "Absence of Mind"

A number of fun little quotes from Absence of Mind

"The old, confident distinction between materiality and non-materiality is not a thing modern science can endorse...modern physics and cosmology are conspicuous by their absence from the arguments of these self-declared champions of science, reason and enlightenment." (p. 112-113, ix-x)

"Religion is a point of entry for certain anthropological methods and assumptions whose tendencies are distinctly invidious. It is treated as a proof of persisting primitivity...a hermeneutics of condescension." (p. 14)

"If the Christianity [Bertrand] Russell loathes is the Christianity he encountered, then that is a form in which the religion has lived in the world. Others have encountered other Christianities. This is one more instance of the universe of difficulties that surrounds a definition of one religion, not to mention religion as a whole." (p. 12)

"There is no reason to suppose that the world had a beginning at all." (p. 12)
--Bertrand Russell, 1927

She has a nice little section on Noah's Ark and the Gilgamesh epic (p. 25-26). She neuters Steven Pinker on the mind (p. 111-112). And she has a wonderful chapter on "The Strange History of Altruism", including a focus on E.O. Wilson's arguments (p. 56-57), Dawkins' memes (p. 65-71), and what turns out ironically to be "parascientific reasoning" (p. 72-73).

She introduces this last idea early-on-- and I'll close with a quote on that angle (p. 2): 

"I have no opinion about the likelihood that science, at the top of its bent, will ultimately arrive at accounts of consciousness, identity, memory, and imagination that are sufficient in the terms of scientific inquiry. Nor do I object, in our present very limited state of knowledge, to hypotheses being offered in the awareness that, in the honorable tradition of science, they are liable to being proved grossly wrong. What I wish to question are not the methods of science, but the methods of a kind of argument that claims the authority of science or highly specialized knowledge, that assumes a protective coloration that allows it to pass for science yet does not practice the self-discipline or self-criticism for which science is distinguished."


At March 29, 2015 at 9:57 PM , Blogger Prof Emeritus said...

Love the book as well. Tis a challenging read--long complicated sentences from the same writer as Lila and Gilead.


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