Recently, it seems, over and over the same theme keeps repeating. What passes for argument or reasons for believing or thinking a thing depends crucially on a failure of imagination. In rhetoric there is a list of known fallacies, it seems to me that “failure of imagination” is not given as one of those, but looking around seems to be perhaps one of the more important ones especially for it not being noticed so much. The structure of these arguments (as such) go as follows. Something is either A or B. It is not A therefore it is B. This fails (obviously) if possibility set (A or B) does not exhaust the possibility or the two sets A,B are not distinct.
At the turn of the last century, it was thought throughout in the Physics community that an entity was either a wave or a particle and that it could not be both. Electro-magnetic radiation was the primary example of waves and it was thought that electrons and such were examples of particles. As it turns out, as we are all taught, was that wave/not-wave and that (not-wave=particle) were exclusive sets. That is to say a thing could not exhibit both wavelike and particle like properties. Quantum mechanics and the notion that things were both wave and particle was not considered. The argument that A=wave B=particle exhausted the possibilities was made and was believed. The failure of this argument to be the case was a failure to imagine that wave/particle exhausted the possibilities.
In recent discussions we talked about determinism and free will. The suggestion was made that the human mind, based on physical brains, were either A or B … where in this case A=deterministic or B=random (in which it is akin to wave/particle) that random=not-deterministic. The problem here too is a failure of imagination. Those who feel that the choice deterministic vs random exhausts the possibilities exhibits this a failure of imagination problem. Truly random systems can be deterministic. Quantum mechanics provides an example of this. Quantum behavior such as will the spin be measured up/down is intrinsically (see Bell’s Theorem/Inequality) random. Yet the time evolution and the description of quantum behavior is entirely deterministic. The time evolution, construction, and behavior of quantum systems are entirely deterministic. Specifically the behavior of wave functions are completely deterministic. Similarly so-called deterministic systems, that is ideal mathematical systems described by classical mechanics with no input randomness can be random. That is the behavior of the system of classical systems (described by Hamiltonian evolution) can be ergodic. The three body gravitational problem is a simple example of that behavior. Random/deterministic are not useful (independent) criteria for describing the mind/brain.
In the context of that same earlier discussion on free will and determinism I too offered that I suffer from failure of imagination as well. I’ve offered that I believe that while we live in a deterministic (quantum) universe, that I fail to imagine how creative genius can exist without free will. And furthermore I had a partial point which needs some blank-filling to be made wholesome. That is to say that traditionally a connection between moral responsibility and free will is typically made, i.e., if you don’t have free will you cannot be morally responsible. In that discussion I had suggested that nationality is a social construct. National identity could be identified and assigned without reference to the subjects (humans) having or not having free will. Nationality is a social construct not dependent on free will. It might be the case that moral responsibility is too a social construct. Given that some social constructs not depend on free/not-free will it may be the case that moral responsibility too can be construed from social order and structures without requiring reference to free/not-freedom of will.
Another example, Mr Horowitz a few weeks ago offered as his outsider’s perspective on Lent:
Rather than abstaining from habits that are thought to be indulgent, these people “instead take on a Lenten discipline such as [bible study], volunteering for charity work, and so on.” (An aside: I wish we would stop lumping in bible study with charity work. Those two are not really the same.) Whereas the traditional Lenten practices are misanthropic inasmuch as they blame us humans for everything that goes wrong while tacitly denying our ability to improve our own lot, the more liberal ones offer a chance for people to be more actively involved in their own self-reformation.
This is a splendiferous cornucopia of examples of failures of imagination all rolled into one exuberant post. Some examples of this include his notion that the Lenten practice of lumping ascetic practices of Lent (Bible study, fasting, and prayer) with other parts such as charitable work are “really not the same.” Can there be a meta-narrative which groups them together in some way. Mr Horowitz apparently fails to imagine such a thing so they are therefore to be kept separate. A and B are separate categories … but just like wave/particle there exist explanations which tie them together. A second example is his claim that Lenten practice are “misanthropic” because they (apparently) blame humans for everything and deny our ability to improve our own lot (… or they don’t … exactly?). So are the liberal versions not misanthropic but the Calvinistic/Reformed view is? What then is this thing called Sanctification? Why do Reformed Christians attempt to improve their lot, why were those New England Puritan Calvinists so hard working after all? Hmmm. Perhaps there is another missing meta-narrative and Mr Horowitz is suffering from a failure of imagination and using it is a argument?