Sunday, 30 September 2012

More snippets from Philosophy 314

So we read a little Galileo, and it was all about something called corpuscularianism.  The world is full of these little corpuscles which are responsible for such things as our ability to smell.  When the corpuscles get up our nose, we smell things.

I thought, What is this nonsense?  I even skipped the class on Galileo.  But then in the next class, referring back to that one, the prof referred to Galileo’s “atomism.”

Oh, atoms, I thought.  Molecules.  They do get up your nose and trigger sensations of smell.  Hmm.

Though how do I know that?  Why am I prepared to believe in molecules, but not corpuscles?

I think I just went through a defamiliarization experiment, like in Gulliver’s Travels when the Lilliputians say that Gulliver keeps his god in his pocket because he won’t do anything without consulting it, and you think, What nonsense, but it turns out they’re referring to his watch.  Ah, you think.

Or it has something to do with paradigm shifts and belief systems.  I’ve abandoned many of the beliefs of my youth, but I still believe in atoms and molecules.  God knows why; I’ve never seen either.  I suppose that means that if I had never heard of atomic theory and someone presented it to me now, I’d call it nonsense.  I wonder why.  Because it goes against experience?

An argument for not trusting experience and the senses, I suppose, which leads to Descartes, but I’ve talked about him already.

I suppose I believe in atoms and molecules because some things you concede to authority, as even the great skeptic, Michel de Montaigne, said you have to do, because after all you can’t know everything and you have to trust authorities on some issues.

So I accept atomic theory, but didn’t even recognize it when presented under a different name (corpuscularianism).  Under its strange new name I rejected it utterly; once I realized it was just another name for atoms and molecules, well, at first I felt embarrassed and defensive, but eventually I thought, Okay, so Galileo wasn’t crazy.

Though I only think that because he fits into my current belief system.  Hmm.  There’s a moral in there somewhere.

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