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Thursday, February 13, 2014

A piece of human soliloquy

A quote from Santayana on the systems framing our ideas.

No system would have ever been framed if people had been simply interested in knowing what is true, whatever it may be. What produces systems is the interest in maintaining against all comers that some favourite or inherited idea of ours is sufficient and right.

A system may contain an account of many things which, in detail, are true enough; but as a system, covering infinite possibilities that neither our experience nor our logic can prejudge, it must be a work of imagination and a piece of human soliloquy. It may be expressive of human experience, it may be poetical; but how should anyone who really coveted truth suppose that it was true?

George Santayana - Winds Of Doctrine Studies in Contemporary Opinion

My reading of this is that experience is one thing, but framing into some kind of congenial narrative is another, much more problematic matter.

On the whole I am a data man. The data of experience may not be entirely trustworthy, but generally it is often more trustworthy than data framed by some prior allegiance, especially those covert allegiances of self-interest.

Not only that, very often the art of life lies in allowing the data of experience to tell its story, especially where the subject is complex. Unfortunately, as complexity increases so does the commercial, institutional and political value of those framing narratives. Leviathans to which we hand over our allegiance without so much as a whipped whimper.

Yet there are many times when data does tell a story if we are prepared to listen. Many folk seem to know this instinctively. They live life from day to day, being wary of confusing the data of experience with airy speculations.

I can’t help thinking it’s a good policy, but then another airy speculation comes along and off I go a-framing.

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