Lucretian swerve

Term

When a thinker introduces an arbitrary skyhook to explain something he or she does not yet understand.

Explanation

“In a world composed of atoms whose motions were predictable, Lucretius (channelling Democritus and Epicurus) could not explain the apparent human capacity of free will. In order to do so, he suggested, arbitrarily, that atoms must occasionally swerve unpredictably, because the gods make them do so. This failure of nerve on the part of the poet has been known since as the Lucretian swerve, but I intend to use the same phrase more generally for each occasion on which I catch a philosopher swerving to explain something he struggles to understand, and positing an arbitrary skyhook.” (14, The Evolution of Everything)

Sources

The Evolution of Everything by Matt Ridley

Skyhook

Term

A metaphor for an argument that defends the top-down design of a process, thing, or being.

Explanation

“A ‘skyhook’ is an imaginary device for hanging an object from the sky. The word originated in a sarcastic remark by a frusturated pilot of a reconnaissance plane in the First World War, when told to stay in the same place for an hour: ‘This machine is not fitted with ‘skyhooks,’ he replied. The philosopher Daniel Dennett used the skyhook as a metaphor for the argument that life shows evidence of an intelligent designer. He contrasted skyhooks with cranes — the first impose a solution, explanation or plan on the world from on high; the second allow solutions, explanations or patterns to emerge from the ground up.

The history of Western thought is dominated by skyhooks, by devices for explaining the world as the outcome of design and planning. Plato said that society worked by imitating a designed cosmic order; a belief in which should be coercively enforced. Aristotle said that you should look for inherent principles of intentionality and development — souls — within matter. Homer said gods decided the outcome of battles. St. Paul said that you should behave morally because Jesus told you so. Mohamed said you should obey God’s word as transmitted through the Koran. Luther said that your fate was in God’s hands. Hobbes said that social order came from a monarch, or what he called ‘Leviathan’ — the state. Kant said morality transcended human experience. Nietzsche said that strong leaders made for good societies. Marx said that the state was the means of delivering economic and social progress. Again and again, we have told ourselves that there is a top-down description of the world, and top-down prescription by which we should live.” (8, The Evolution of Everything)

Source

The Evolution of Everything by Matt Ridley

Darwin’s Dangerous Idea by Charles Darwin

 

Productive Meditation

Term

Meditating on a singular problem while being engaged in physical activity

Explanation

“The goal of productive meditation is to take a period in which you’re occupied physically —but not mentally—walking, jogging, driving, showering—and focus your attention on a single well-defined professional problem. Depending on your profession, this problem might be outlining an article, writing a talk, making progress on a proof, or attempting to sharpen a business strategy” (170, Deep Work)

Source

Deep Work by Cal Newport