A longer, denser (perhaps too much so?) post.
In the third volume of Mind, Langer discusses the question, How do we think about the seeming “truths” of the ancients and recent primitive peoples in light of the development of scientific thinking supported by mathematics? How do we understand such outrageous and patently false statements about ghosts, monsters, impossible events, etc.? She posits that their truth, being less reckoned with objective considerations, was of a different sort, that someone who talked about the unverifiable domain of mythic events in an exaggerated or more powerful way could have more impact on his fellows and their cultural memes. This derived early on, she hypothesized, from the first emergence of symbolization and the exuberant creativity thereby endowed on the mind. While truth as a modern objective matter in the ancient, pre-scientific world may have been limited to the more practical matters of life, death, agricultural, husbandry, and raw material processing (metallurgy, fermentation, healing herbs), how people conceptualized and understood all matters, the myths of origin and nature’s regularities were subject to the dialectic between subjects’ individual imaginations and social response. And individuals who were creative and could provide an exhilarating story could be powerful figures even as their stories violated any reality constraints; their lack of verifiability was essentially irrelevant.
While reality constrained this dialectic, inevitably this development went awry, which brings us closer to our modern times. Langer cites among others the Aztec blood thirst in their pursuit of magical power that led them to kill and blood more humans than they could reproduce (and that is a basic evolutionary no-no). They sought to compensate with military conquests but that does not exactly help your culture’s reputation, which does matter in a meme sort of way, and survival. Such extremes or polarization of conceptualizations, memes, and ideologies are not generally adaptive even if they do succeed over the short haul. Another truism from biology is that evolutionary ‘progress’ derives from past developments and even though the new supercedes the old, the old still operates albeit with new limits. This brings us to the modern world.
I have been thinking about the logic of our current geopolitical situation. What is wrong with polarization? Ah, the golden mean. There is something to this quantification thing. Differences not in kind but in degree. Cultural movements such as dogmatic religious movements (think Aztec, the Inquisition, Nazis, KKK, Jim Jones, ISIS, etc.) violate the general progress of human evolution. We trust that the dialectical constraints will curb such extremes (the civilized nations will act to negate uncivilized behaviors by groups such as ISIS, etc.), but no guarantees exist that balance will be maintained. Be careful.
I appreciate science as it operates with a self-correcting process; mistakes are communal learning opportunities. I appreciate art because there are no mistaken beliefs; an artist’s work can inspire community or be relegated to the dusty aesthetic box up in the attic. Neither have had, I don’t think, a violent war between competing paradigms. Look out. Finally consider the sort of political statements all too common today by some leaders and some editorial letters and stances (I am looking at you Fox news) wherein verifiability is irrelevant—it is all about the extreme thrill of some sort of delusional righteousness. To survive and progress we must adhere to the dialectic, not the absolute.