Linked by Meaning in a Non-linear Fashion

Here’s something to make you think, to shake your comfortable old positivist assumptions down to their roots, to alert you to the fact that there are deeper levels of reality that you’ve been forgetting to take into account…

I am glad to see that this page is being read by the press. On 6th December, Catherine Bennett of the Guardian (UK national newspaper and dyed-in-the-wool astrological sceptic) writes: On the Astrology News website, there is already speculation that the tsunami “because it involves destruction originating from a submarine source … appears to fall in line with the mythological themes of Sedna”. Suggesting that the California Institute of Technology scientists whose decision it was, last year, to name the planet after the Inuit sea goddess, may be more competent in the divination department than all the UK’s astrologers put together. I suspect that Bennett writes about esoteric subjects without reading about them. She would benefit by studying the writings of Carl Jung. Jung’s notion of synchronicity is that there is an acausal (non-linear) principle that links events having a similar meaning by their coincidence in time rather than sequentially. He claimed that there is a synchrony between the mind and the phenomenal world of perception. Though I am not sure if every coincidence has deep meaning, the naming of a planet is a significant and symbolic event that affects the world. As such, I cannot rule out a connection between the choice of the name and the nature of the planet.

An acausal principle that links events – how cool is that? And it’s non-linear, too, which is even cooler. Not that I have the faintest idea what the astrologists mean by that, and I bet they don’t either, but that’s exactly why it’s so cool. If we understood it that would take the mystification I mean mystery out of it, and that’s no fun.

So events are ‘linked’ (what does linked mean? linked how, linked in what sense, linked with what result, linked according to what evidence or logic?) if they have a similar meaning. Oh. What does meaning mean? What kind of meaning, and according to whom? They’re linked by their coincidence in time rather than sequentially. Oh – but since we don’t understand what ‘linked’ means, and so don’t understand how they’re linked, and we don’t understand what ‘meaning’ means, and so don’t understand what meaning has to do with the non-understood ‘linking’ (except that we’ve been told that it’s acausal, which helps remarkably little, in fact hinders), the information that they are ‘linked’ in a non-understood way by their coincidence in time rather than sequentially…really doesn’t get us much farther. But it sounds kind of deep, maybe. Either that or kind of daft.

I’ll show you something that links though. Not sequentially, but by meaning. But I, pedantically or literally enough, will explain in what sense the two items ‘link’ – I will explain that they ‘link’ in my own mind because I see a connection between them, which I will endeavour to explain to that large majority of the world’s population that doesn’t share a brain with me.

The scientific profession possesses considerable cognitive authority in modern societies…Such authority is of course of inestimable value to individual scientists, and they have a vested interest in its maintenance. They can be expected to police the existing boundaries of science, to avoid the intrusion of whatever may detract from its reputation and to seek to dispel anything potentially disreputable which arises within it.

That’s from the opening of chapter 6, ‘Drawing Boundaries,’ of Scientific Knowledge by Barry Barnes, David Bloor and John Henry, page 140. Here is a bit from the end of the same chapter, page 168:

The boundaries of science are conventional. To reify those boundaries, and to see them as hard-and-fast divisions between inherently different subject areas or disciplines is simply a mistake. The demarcation of science from pseudo-science, or of science from scientism or even physics from chemistry, can be fully understood only in sociological terms…Scientific boundaries are defined and maintained by social groups concerned to protect and promote their cognitive authority, intellectual hegemony, professional integrity, and whatever political and economic power they might be able to command by attaining these things.

Both of those statements have some truth to them as far as they go – but they leave a lot out. They also seem to carry a wealth of implication, which is probably what Barnes, Bloor and Henry have in mind, given the leaving a lot out aspect. The link I see between the two sets of quotations is that the kind of rhetorical skepticism we find in the last two tends to work as an enabler of the woolly thinking in the first one – at least I think so. The knowing stuff about policing boundaries and dispelling the disreputable is very popular with astrology fans and New Agers of all kinds. In other words, sociologists of knowledge who write sly comments like that without qualifying them (except sometimes in other books or far distant chapters) are just promoting the fashion for childish irrationalism we see all around the place.

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