Dewey B. Larson
755 N.E. Royal Court
Portland, Oregon 97232
Feb. 13, 1982
Your comments on BS&T are interesting, but to a considerable extent they are outside the scope of the subject matter that I have attempted to cover in the book. My intention has been to confine my investigations in this subject area to matters that I can treat by the same scientific methods that I have used in the physical development, and I am reluctant to go beyond the limits to which I can carry this policy. I will therefore have to pass over without comment two categories of items, which I can define as follows:
Category I: Subjects that I did not address at all. As I said in the preface, “Subjects that are not covered herein simply represent territory that was not explored... there is no significance in the absence of any particular subject from these pages.” The items in this category really represent an agenda for further study. Since I have not studied them-at least not to the point of treating them scientifically-I do not feel that I am ready to express any opinions on them.
Category II: Items that go into the subject matter in greater depth than I have undertaken to reach. Again quoting my preface, “this work... is simply a pioneer expedition into this hitherto scientifically uncharted region.” You are asking me for the topography of the interior where I have only explored the coastline.
On this basis, I will make the following remarks on your numbered items:
- All negative motions-the electronegative components of the atomic motions, for instance, and most electrical phenomena-are cosmic in character. Thus cosmic motions play a role in the material sector that is minor in magnitude, but often determines the direction that the action takes. My conclusion is that after the normal aggregation processes of the material sector have built up a large and complex molecule on the order of DIVA, a cosmic-oriented component joins the molecule, and alters its behavior. Of course, this is only a rather vague idea as yet-I don't have anything in the way of details-but something of the sort is certainly a distinct possibility.
- Category II. Just in case you feel that one cannot legitimately assert the existence of such a thing without being able to answer such questions, let me point out that if you asked Newton questions of this kind about gravitation, he could not answer them either.
- No, I can't buy this at all. The universe is definitely three-dimensional. My finding that space and time are constituents of the physical universe, not a container or setting for that universe completely demolishes the idea that all existence must be in space and in time.
- Category I. Incidentally, I don't agree with your premise.
- Perhaps, although I don't believe that it necessarily follows.
- I do not accept this premise either
- So what? I don't like the collectivist philosophy either, but so far as I can see, the issue of individualism versus collectivism has no ethical dimensions per se. I see no essential difference between an individual's desire to go his own way and his desire to be warm and comfortable. Both contribute to human happiness, but my finding is that happiness is ethically neutral, except for such indirect effects that it may have in one direction or the other.
- Category I.
- This is a pertinent question, and it illustrates the point that I am trying to make about the nature of my investigation in this area. Apparently you are raising the issue because you believe that the pursuit of knowledge ought to be one of our purposes. But this is a subjective conclusion. At the present stage of my investigation I see no way of deriving it from factual premises in the manner in which I am trying to make a start toward defining the non-physical aspects of existence. Acquisition of ethical knowledge is, of course, essential for progress toward our goal. We cannot do what is right consistently unless we know what is right. But, as matters now stand, I see no direct ethical significance in the acquisition of physical knowledge.
- So far as we have been able to ascertain, we pass through the same physical stages as the monkeys in the zoo, yet we come out with a substantially greater mental capacity-a physical attribute-than our cousins. Similarly, the improvement that is made in the ethical area can also take the form of an ability to move through the earlier stages faster, leaving time for progress toward a higher level. I might say that I don't like the reincarnation idea. In the first draft of this book many years ago I dismissed this concept summarily. But each time I reviewed the subject matter and revised the text of the book, I was forced to give it more credence. Now, still somewhat reluctantly, I believe that it is an inescapable result of several items of what appears to be firm factual knowledge.
- No one has ever explained how a mechanism of any kind can accomplish anything that is actually new. In order to confer that power on a brain you will have to assert that a brain is more than a mechanism, and then you are right back where you started.
- As I see the picture, both the ends and the means have to be evaluated in determining the ethical status of an action. Either may be ethically positive, ethically negative, or neutral (that is, having no ethical significance). The right or wrong of the action as a whole is a net resultant of the positive and negative values of all aspects of the action. Such an evaluation is often difficult, which is one of the reasons why improvement in ethical understanding is a requirement for ethical progress.
- The validity of your contention depends on the definition of “doing more.” Certainly they have done more to make life more pleasant and more comfortable. I have emphasized that point in the book. But the conclusion from my factual development is that well-being in that physical sense in not relevant to the purpose of our existence. The question then becomes whether the indirect results of better living conditions on progress toward the primary goal have outweighed the accomplishments of those who are trying the direct approach. I think this is at least debatable.
- The question of worship is in Category I. I have not considered it. In fact, I am not sure that I really understand just what worship is. I have dealt with prayer only as a means of communication.
- Category I, again. I have not encountered anything that would give me a handle on the question as to the existence of a Deity, other than religious revelation. My finding is that revelation is a genuine source of information, but, like information derived from other sources, the information from revelation requires verification, and the purported revelations are so conflicting that their validity cannot be either confirmed or disproved by any of the criteria that I have been able to establish.
- Category I.
- Category I.
- No comment needed.
- Category II.
- Probably. There are eddies in all rivers, but they have no effect on the final outcome.
- Category I, although I might point out that we have no choice in the matter. We are deprived of a body sooner or later whether we approve of the idea or not.
- I don't think that this is a serious problem. If we look at the situation objectively, and consider only what we actually know, excluding what we think is happening, we see that the human individual is confronted by two or more possible responses to each of various sets of circumstances. Certain forces 12 (using the term in a very general sense) exert influences tending to cause one of these responses to take place. Other forces tend to cause some different response. We know that the anticipated material gain or loss is one such force. Public approval or disapproval is another. There are many. My finding is that the individual's stage of ethical development is one of these, a significant factor, but not necessarily controlling. This conclusion has enough support from experience to justify asserting that it is factual.
In a complex physical situation the observed facts are exactly the same. Some forces tend toward one resultant, some toward another, and the action that finally ensues depends on the relative strength of the various forces. We could credit the physical object that is involved with making a choice between the alternatives-Aristotle did just that-but this assumption is now recognized as superfluous. So far as we know is concerned, it is just as superfluous in the ethical case. B. F. Skinner makes this point quite forcibly. The flaw in his reasoning is that he views the situation as wholly mechanical, and this leaves him without any explanation of ethical behavior.
There is a zone of tolerance within which we can run a surplus or deficit of sleep for a time, but my conclusion is that the books have to be balanced sooner or later. This seems to conflict with some observations, but recent sleep research has found that there is a “microsleep” that accounts for most of the deviations in one direction, and that the long sleepers are actually awake physiologically during part of their presumed sleep time. There book by Dement that I listed in the references is fascinating reading if you are interested in the sleep question.
- Category I.
I have been rather brief, for reasons which you no doubt understand, but perhaps we can go into some of these issues in more detail later.
Dewey B. Larson