Sunday, 10 December 2017

The demotivating effect of RUP...

Owen Barfield invented the term Residual Unresolved Positivism (RUP) to refer to a Positivist attitude which persisted unconsciously, unknown, and against the will of the person who held to it.

Positivism is the (usually implicit) belief system that all valid knowledge comes via the senses (and not, for example, from revelation or imagination) - it is sometimes called Scientism, and is the metaphysics which is mainstream in modernity - although usually only articulated by scientists with a bent for philosophy.

RUP can have a life-sapping effect - a demotivating effect - an alienating effect - the effect of draining meaning from life; and I experienced this myself over the past week and a bit during which I have been trying to finish a big theoretical paper on the subject of Group Selection in Biology (from the perspective of Systems Theory) - and when I have experienced a cumulative inner resistance, a dysphoric sense of boredom, futility and angst about the project. Yesterday I got to the point when I was unable and unwilling to proceed, and resolved to abandon the project for a while.

 Today I cracked-open a newly purchased book - History, Guilt and Habit, by Owen Barfield, and read a couple of pages of the chapter on Evolution. Suddenly it became clear that I was suffering from the effects of Residual Unresolved Positivism - and I immediately felt cured: I also felt motivated, enthused and excited.

Until that exact moment, I had been wondering whether I was actually physically ill, with some subclinical infection or autoimmune disease or something - so profound was my demotivation. I felt that I ought to be getting on with the group selection paper, I couldn't; but I couldn't get myself to do anything else, because I felt I ought to be working on the paper...

The problem was quite simple. Because I was writing the paper for a biological audience, I was constrained by staying within the biological paradigm - which lies within positivism, and strictly excludes any religious or even metaphysical material.

(It would, in any case, be utterly self-defeating if it was included - since 99% (approximately!) of biologists are actively atheist, and would instantly write off anything even hinting at Christian assumptions.)

As always, when I am working on theoretical science, I was intensely absorbed in thinking about group selection, and indeed had been for some weeks. By this I mean devoting a level of sustained and recurrent time and effort to thinking about the problem, to a degree which most people have never done on any subject - because this is what is required for theoretical endeavour.

[For instance, I had been thinking on and off, and hard, about the nature of depression for about fifteen years before I made a breakthrough in 1999. Of course there is reading, observation and conversation (also sometimes experimenting) - as well as thinking. But for genuine theoretical work, the proportion of thinking to empirical input is several-fold in favour of just-thinking. Since thinking (and even reading!) does not count as an academic, scholarly or scientific activity (if an academic was to say they had been 'thinking a lot' recently, they certainly would be regarded as making a feeble excuse for doing nothing at all; this goes some way towards explaining the dire state of modern intellectual discourse.]

However, this focused intensity on Group Selection meant that I was trapping myself - for long intense, recurrent periods - inside the positivistic biological world view.

I was trapping myself therefore inside a world without meaning and purpose  - a dead world without God.

And it was this which was cumulatively demotivating me - because it removed all genuine significance from my task (which by default just became a matter of ego, careerism and the like).

It just took attention to those few words from Owen Barfield to remind me of what was real and matters... and I was free!

(But modernity is implicitly and pervasively positivist; and most modern people never do acknowledge the falsity of positivism and the metaphysical realities I share with Owen Barfield - so presumably most people remain trapped inside a world of meaninglessness and purposelessness and are motivated only by ego, careerism and short-termist pleasure; without any hope of escape because they do not acknowledge anywhere they could escape-to.)