15 Comments
Jul 6, 2023Liked by Mike Hind

As you mentioned bewilderment and irritation, I instinctively found myself looking for something that would trigger that reaction (strange how we can direct other people's attention, uh?). The one element of your article that comes even close is where you (forgive me for the inelegant summary if you may) express a sort of "this generation has conveniently forgotten undesirable facts related to their biology in order to be free to pursue a different agenda, detaching themselves from nature". I heard this sort of "O tempora! O mores!" before, and specifically in the context of telling me how I couldn't reasonably expect a life of independence, knowledge and leadership as those things are not the realm of human beings biologically geared to the production and rearing of the future generation. After all, if you are temporarily incapacitated on a regular basis (by your period, your pregnancy, breastfeeding and the lot), isn't it expecting a tad much of yourself that you'd be able to study and work and lead? Nonsense, surely. Focus on being a good mother and all will be well (pat pat). The other context in which this line of thinking has surfaced in my experience is when people have tried to convince me that I should sneer on the gays. Surely that's not what nature had in mind, the line went. I don't think that deserves much commentary.

Given the above, er, experience, I have a historical antipathy for the above line of thinking. Not that the line of thinking is at fault - it's a bit as if I'd seen spoons used repeatedly to carve people's eyes out. Nothing wrong with the spoon itself, but instinctive recoiling on seeing one wouldn't be unjustified.

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Jul 6, 2023Liked by Mike Hind

On reading this piece, I *think* I have made some headway into understanding the reason why we see things rather differently when it comes to reality and our relationship to it. The way I have always experienced deep meditative states ever since I was a child is what I would describe as a negation of the senses rather than their enhancement. While it's hard to explain, I guess the closest to my experience I've heard people describe is a phenomenon called "sleep paralysis" - except more extensive, I suppose. My father, a man of faith, would tell you that his way of experiencing meditation is a sort of closeness to God.

I do find it interesting that each of us found in meditation something compatible with their overall worldview - the theist feels close to God, the sceptical enjoys the beauty of the universe and the overactive and constantly overstimulated mind basks in silence and temporary oblivion of the self and her circumstances. You'll forgive me for thinking that this is unlikely to be a random occurrence, and feels rather a direct product of our view of the universe. Some sort of personal experience rather than reality, dare I say.

I am, nevertheless, genuinely happy that your experience of meditation is so wholesome and rewarding for you, and wish more people were to have the same experience.

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Jul 6, 2023Liked by Mike Hind

Interesting piece. In case you are wondering, no, I'm not bewildered or irritated by it. Let me start with the things I agree with first - I am pleased to report that the main one is core to your article.

"Proving things is so yesterday, for me now. Making connections between ways of seeing the world is where it's at."

Indeed. That's what I mean by comparing experiential notes. I don't think much else matters, and exercises in proving or disproving or arguing about what's real are for me the main cause of personal wars - because as you say, nothing in that realm can really be proven, and it's futile to try. I find much easier and more productive to have conversations about why people feel a certain way about something rather than arguing about whether fish and chips is or isn't truly English (I honestly was not even aware of the debate - yawn).

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Hi there. I'd been meaning to comment on this when I first saw it but felt I needed to write something myself first about telling stories in biology. Now I have finally subscribed just in order to leave a comment that disagrees with you. Not sure what that says about me but it's probably not good.

As your substack is about uncertainty, I hope you won't mind my saying that I think you have the wrong end of the stick about a couple of things. I'm speaking from the perspective of someone with a training in science and not continental philosophy. Possibly you'll assume that my biological training has been influenced by continental philosophy - or woke orthodoxy - but I really think it's the other way around.

It really isn't biological reality that there is a special category of 'women'. And, if there were, it certainly wouldn't be defined as 'people with XX chromosomes' which, after all, were only discovered in the 20th Century. DNA isn't a secret book containing our true nature, it's a molecule that reacts with other molecules. Anyway, there's lots of stuff talking about why dichotomous sex categories aren't 'biological reality' that comes from a biological - not post-structuralist - perspective. Certainly it isn't saying 'there is no biological reality' but rather, at the root of all of it is the modern realization that categorizations are not biological realities. From a biological perspective 'trans women are women' is a meaningless statement but so is 'people with XX chromosomes are women' or any other such statement you can come up with. It might be a *useful* statement, for the purposes of a particular study and, as far as I can see, the same applies to each individual political question: who participates in women's sports, who gets to be addressed as she/her, who gets to use women's toilets: these are all political questions. Biology does not solve them.

That doesn't mean there's no reality. If someone does have XX chromosomes, it is still wrong to say that she (or he or they or whatever) do not have them.

Learning biology is an experience of constantly having any categorization undermined. For example a category 'fish' which excludes whales and dolphins can't really be defended under current thinking. This is modern biology, though I might not be believed. And that isn't because whales and dolphins don't produce milk or have 'warm blood' (although so do great white sharks, leatherback turtles and tuna - nor is temperature a dichotomous variable anyway), just that it's because somebody has decided those things are so important they merit a separate category. Someone still had to decide. In this case it was, arguably, Aristotle, influenced by his teacher's religious dogma of the separate world of perfect Forms where, perhaps 'woman' really is a thing - though I guess Plato would probably have thought 'virgin' and 'married woman' were separate forms. Anyway this is definitely a religious idea which biology keeps disproving.

I say this because I just cannot see how it would be possible for my beliefs to have come originally from postmodernism into biology. These ideas came out of looking at the world and finding that the old categorizations, the ideas of perfect forms representing ideas in the mind of God just didn't fit what we were seeing.

I have never publicly said anything related to gender issues before and don't have a dog in the fight. Also I hate censorship and 'cancellation' and public shaming. Nonetheless I think you are missing something important here which, I think, relates to your wider point. Affecting to define reality automatically obscures it, but the way to get around that is not to return to older categorizations that we were more comfortable with. There's just no defending these as anything other than socially constructed - unless you want to claim they are divinely constructed.

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