Philosophy, Science, Top Stories

In Defence of Scientism

Nothing provokes widespread horror quite like science trespassing where it is said not to belong. This aversion is so powerful that it can unite the most disparate areas of the sociopolitical spectrum in a righteous fury. The extension of science into other spheres is typically decried as scientism, but the term is so broadly used that it’s often hard to pin down exactly what is being criticized. Applying science ‘out of context’ is too disenchanting, it is complained, too reductionist, too Western, too uncertain, too arrogant. Most of these objections are spurious. Science is not exclusively reductionist, nor uniquely Western, and its notoriety for disillusionment is as overstated as it is perverse. These objections are propped up by a litany of misconceptions about the scientific method and practice, and often make strawmen of themselves by attacking obsolete scientific philosophies.

Turning to the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition, we find scientism to be an inflated “trust in the efficacy of the methods of natural science applied to all areas of investigation (in philosophy, the social sciences, and the humanities).” But this is one definition among many. It is also framed as extending “scientific ideas, methods, practices, and attitudes to matters of human social and political concern,”1 or “putting too high a value on natural science in comparison with other branches of learning or culture,”2 or it is purported to be the “elimination of [the spiritual] dimensions of experience” from serious discourse. Lastly, scientism is also purported to be a ‘blind faith’ in the scientific project. It should be clear that this essay is not an apology for unsuspecting concession to the latest publication. Uncritical acceptance of information is exactly the problem to begin with, and one would hope this to be self-evident.

Extracting a working definition from this cadre of classifications, hereafter scientism will refer to the extension of scientific methodology into disciplines with which it has traditionally been considered incompatible, and valuing hard science more than (but not necessarily to the exclusion of) other disciplines in the search for what is true. Protesting scientism is to claim that science is and ought to be limited, first, in its ability to appraise the cosmos and its contents, and second, in its scope, by hemming science into a few choice regions of study, while the rest remains safely tucked away from unwanted facts or insulting methodologies. The first contention cannot be disproved, and the second deserves reconsideration. Science should not be restricted from answering the big questions, from informing our politics and influencing our discourse. Hysterical accusations of determinism, reductionism, arrogance, or poor taste will not prevent it from doing so.

Scientism is often ridiculed as an appeal to excessive reductionism that “restricts human inquiry.” This notion is predicated on a view of science as purely reductionist, a charge that betrays a deep misunderstanding of scientific practice. Science is a way of demonstrating the deep connections between the smallest of parts and the largest of systems. Contrary to how it is often portrayed, the scientific project is not strictly reductionist. Reductionism is the belief that understanding complex phenomena comes ultimately from breaking them down into their simplest parts. This approach is made by isolating variables, refining the precision and accuracy of observations, and extracting from them fundamental laws, which in turn can be used to make predictions. The purely reductionist approach to science had its heyday during the Enlightenment, when Newton’s clockwork universe reigned triumphant, able at last to provide a rigorous explanation not only for the motion of celestial bodies, but everything under the sun. This was the spirit of the times – scholars imagined all aspects of the universe, human ones, to be reducible to axioms and blueprints; even Thomas Hobbes imagined his Leviathan as akin to an automaton, with “springs and wheels.”

Yet, despite its obvious power, reductionism is simply not sufficient when trying to understand and describe many natural phenomena. Take, for example, the weather. Like all natural systems, weather is chaotic, unbounded, and awfully hard to specify completely. No matter how many radar stations, geosynchronous satellites, and weather balloons one might employ, fully constraining weather conditions at any time is difficult, if not impossible – and without discrete initial conditions, how can we make predictions with any certainty? In concept, everything can be reduced to physical first principles. In reality, we have trouble modeling the motion of water pouring from a garden hose. Regardless of our level of understanding, the imperfection of our instruments will necessarily inject reasonable levels of uncertainty into our simulations of phenomena.

A purely reductionist approach also fails to appreciate emergent properties, such as life (while composed of many molecules arranged in a certain way, many molecules arranged in virtually the same way can also produce cadavers) and consciousness (one neuron does not an Einstein make). Any real understanding of natural phenomena “requires knowledge of its constituent parts and their relationship to each other, and to the larger world of which the phenomenon is part.”3 The whole, in many cases, appears to be more than the sum of the parts. While this reflection could be an artefact of our imperfect understanding of the cosmos, for now, at least, science must progress by placing mechanisms in their proper context. These natural systems (life, stars, whole planets!) are ever changing, and sustained in disequilibria by feedbacks and sums of external forces.

This is why the practice of science is not simply fundamental physics, but is broken up into many overlapping but separate disciplines. Ethology, geology, and neurology deal primarily in natural systems, not the physical first principles that underlie them; hybrid disciplines, like biophysics, geophysics, and neurochemistry exist to bridge the two. Modern science is a holistic combination of a systems approach and justified levels of reductionism. If scientism is an extension of this dual approach into other disciplines, this fact makes the fears of excessive reductionism unravel. Reductionism is powerful tool; science uses it where applicable, not excessively.

Friedrich Hayek was simply wrong to suggest that the soft sciences couldn’t be made to meet the standards of the hard sciences.4 Humans are complicated and interesting ‘systems’ just as much as any other and can be studied as such. Asserting that bias is ineradicable from the social sciences is merely to throw up one’s hands; the existence of bias is not an argument against science applied to human affairs, but rather an argument for it. One would suspect that the goal of the social sciences would be to understand human interaction with accuracy and precision, as opposed to mere reliance on anecdotes and autoethnographies.

Perhaps the shallowest criticism of scientism is its caricature as logical positivism, another outmoded concept of scientific inquiry. The central thesis of this attitude was verificationism, the view that ideas are only meaningful if they are empirically verifiable. This assessment entailed that certain or ‘positive’ notions could only proceed from verifiable sense data. Shaped by the work of Ludwig Wittgenstein, Bertrand Russell, and Ernst Mach, this movement sought to unite all of previous philosophy under the scientific aegis, framed in their own terms. This early-20th century approach to the scientific method fell apart spectacularly under the onslaught of later philosophers of science – Karl Popper, in rescuing science from Bacon’s inductive framework, dismissed verificationism as useless because nothing can be established with sufficient certainty to merit ‘verification.’ Verificationism is also self-refuting, because a statement stipulating that only empirically verified statements can be true makes a claim that is not empirically verifiable. Positivism, it seems, was too stringent even for itself.

The critique of these ideas as flawed is real and serious, but can’t extend itself to a critique of the scientific project, wherever it might be applied. Science has settled on falsification instead of verification as a superior criterion for testability, and the attempt to cast the one as the other is a conjuring trick. Today’s philosophy of science is a critique and amendment of positivism, excising and modifying those parts that are disproven, while maintaining those that still assist in the search for truth. This usually enervates still more whining about consistency – if the scientific method was flawed before, what can be expected from it now?

Mistakes are to be expected. While the fundamental practice of scientific testing was no different under Ibn al-Haytham or Galileo, its logical basis was in hindsight incomplete; perhaps later times will pass the same judgement on us. Science is “true whether or not you believe in it,” as Neil deGrasse Tyson acidly put it: a statement that is true insofar as scientific data reflects the real world, which it regularly does, but also captures an essential aspect of the scientific method. Science is, as far as we can tell, the discipline with the greatest capacity for self-correction, and that endeavor can be as meta as correcting its own methodology. Science’s power and scope lies precisely in its capacity for revision. Nevertheless, optimism about science’s capabilities should not overextend itself – we should not allow scientists to become authorities. Instead, we should proceed in the spirit of inquiry, as skeptical as the uncertainty of our data requires.

The most emotional and ridiculous of the objections to scientism is the aesthetic one. Science is too ‘cold’ and ‘unfeeling’ in its appraisal it is contended; it is an affront to taste; an unweaving of the rainbow. It debases all of the glorious mysteries that once enchanted us, it’s claimed – “What could reduce the value of a work of art more savagely than the official application of a unit of aesthetic worth?” asks the writer Ben Sixsmith in a recent post. How could the stars, the compass of ages, be no more than immense spheres of hydrogen and helium? Science, Sixsmith protests, inflates “the value of quantifiability” when misapplied.

This objection is as petty and conceited as it is absurd. The stars shone by nuclear fusion long before humans arranged some nearby ones into arbitrary constellations. Light began refracting through raindrops long before Keats lived to appreciate it, bemoaning the encroachment of science into the sublime. He was, like all those who object to scientific advancement on aesthetic grounds, much happier to remain ignorant. “The shiver that ascends one’s spine in the presence of beauty,” avers Sixsmith, “would shrink before the presentation of scientific data.” Has he looked at images from the Hubble telescope, or appreciated the beauty and complexity of a cell? Moreover, would discovering the exact neurochemical pathway that produces feelings of love rob that celebrated emotion of its potency? Why should it? Knowledge of how the universe functions need not lead to disillusionment . On the contrary, it can be an inspiration.

Such a notion is curtly rejected by critics of scientism, complaining every which way that it makes them uncomfortable. There’s a petty fraudulence to this denunciation; a kind of vain, anthropocentric parochialism. Carl Sagan put it quite well – scientific discoveries are the great demotions: “downlifting experiences, demonstrations of our apparent insignificance, wounds that science has, in its search for… facts, delivered to human pride.”5 Insulting aesthetic sense, unfortunately, is a necessary part of the scientific project – it must necessarily dispel, or hope to dispel, our own illusions. Yet, while science has diminished our standing in the cosmos, it has in turn opened up new vistas of splendor for humans to explore and appreciate, both within the universe, and within ourselves. “There is grandeur in this view of life,” wrote Darwin in his seminal work; the pursuit of what is true at all costs and all hazards is something to be cherished. Science indeed may be boundless. It’s time we found out.

 

Thomas Cortellesi is a planetary science student at the University of Chicago. You can follow him on Twitter @tcortellesi

References:

1 Richard Olson, Science and Scientism in Nineteenth-Century Europe
2 Tom Sorell, Scientism: Philosophy and the Infatuation with Science
3 W.S. Broecker, How to Build a Habitable Planet
4 Friedrich Hayek, The Counter-Revolution of Science
5 Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot

 

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32 Comments

  1. I’d like to defend Sixsmith’s post – suppose we established an objective system of rating artistic works in terms of its neural connectivity, emotional response, or how broadly it elicited feeling. That measurement system would still tell us virtually nothing about the art itself. It’s like confusing a phone book of Los Angeles for cohesive knowledge of the city (as Terence McKenna always said, or in Robert Anton Wilson’s terms, “The map is not the territory). Eventually, to achieve a full understanding of any phenomena, it has to be both quantified and experienced. Scientism, in my understanding, is the denial of the experiential aspect of being purely for the quantified.

    I’ll also add that I don’t see science as a source of “great demotions”. Rather, I think it fuels contradiction and uncertainty regarding our metaphysical nature. To this day, there is no cogent explanation for why humans, if we are so unimportant, have discovered the fundamental basis of genetics and Darwinian evolution. If we are just bystanders in a show that is not about us, then why have we unlocked the mathematical maps underlying being itself? It doesn’t quite add up. I don’t see at all how we can simultaneously be spectators, nobodies, and have the keys to atomic structures and study the origins of the universe.

    • Hutch says

      Art and mathematics are abstract constructs and tools which are unique to our species. Art being various forms of human expression and mathematics a means of interpreting our reality. Both are constantly evolving with our species as our understanding grows. They are not in and of themselves independent parts of the universe which can be subject to scientific scrutiny and quantification to the degree of an atom for example.

      I’m not saying that the scientific method cannot be applied to the abstracts of our species, however the application of same does not necessarily always provide useful information. For example the measurement of serotonin release of a set of people observing a particular painting may tell you a great deal of information, however the experiment won’t bring you any closer to the meaning of the artist’s work. More importantly the information obtained won’t be any basis for an “objective” rating scale for art.

      I find people like Terrence McKenna fall into the trap of overvaluing their subjective experiences, never challenge their own biases and apply the scientific model poorly. Specifically in that he’d be the one to take an entheogen, experience something and claim his experiences were “real” and “quantifiable”. He rarely, if ever, will admit that the “experience” he had was possibly an illusion as a result of his brain chemistry being affected by the entheogen.

      The scientific method is the very reason we have unlocked and discovered the amazing objective facts of the universe to date. If you look at our history you can see almost every great discovery leading up to today and it adds up perfectly.

      We went from believing ourselves the centre of the universe to understanding our relative insignificance with only the scientific method.

      • “We went from believing ourselves the centre of the universe to understanding our relative insignificance with only the scientific method.”

        Well, no; Cicero’s “Dream of Scipio” in his Republic clearly articulates that relative insignificance as powerfully to our imagination as any modern scientism can, without any assistance from the scientific method. Being “in the center” of that cosmos was the very essence of its insignificance.

        • BenK says

          Indeed, the move from the ptolemaic to modern cosmology was the promotion of humanity to the only meaning-ful beings in the observable universe. I think the essence of ‘scientism’ is ignorance of the actual history of thought.

  2. Pingback: In Defense of Scientism – Right Ascension

  3. Burlats de Montaigne says

    “To this day, there is no cogent explanation for why humans, if we are so unimportant, have discovered the fundamental basis of genetics and Darwinian evolution. If we are just bystanders in a show that is not about us, then why have we unlocked the mathematical maps underlying being itself? It doesn’t quite add up. I don’t see at all how we can simultaneously be spectators, nobodies, and have the keys to atomic structures and study the origins of the universe.”

    You are confusing the metaphysical with the real. There doesn’t need to be a “why”. Science has no need of an answer to your question. Religious tracts concern themselves with ‘why’ questions.(The answer is usually “sin” BTW)
    Science deals with ‘how’ questions.

  4. Mr Cortellesi calls my arguments “emotional”, “ridiculous”, “petty”, “conceited” and “absurd”. Perhaps this is to some extent because he has misunderstood them. Of course, contra his rhetorical questions about space and the cell, I do not deny that the natural world is beautiful or that products of the natural sciences can help us to appreciate its beauty. What I doubt is that scientific explanations of what makes objects, language and situations beautiful captures or enhances our appreciation of them. Scientific analysis of the colour schemes in JMW Turner’s The Fighting Temeraire might be an interesting intellectual exercise, for example, but does not increase the value of the painting and might be detrimental inasmuch as abstraction can dull our intuitive sensibilities.

    Mr Cortellesi thinks I am displaying “vain, anthropocentric parochialism.” This is an interesting mess of pejoratives. I believe that beauty and love offer consolation in a harsh, unfeeling world that we are manifestly unqualified to fit to our tastes. Anthropocentric? Yes, I am a man. Parochial? Perhaps, though I prefer realistic. Vain? No. Vanity, I think, is more the sin of people who imagine that the endless pursuit of scientific truth will not entail anthropological extinction.

    Science “must necessarily dispel, or hope to dispel, our own illusions”. Why? Can this be proved scientifically? “The pursuit of what is true at all costs and all hazards is something to be cherished.” Really? This idea would revolutionise research ethics if it was accepted, and I doubt for the better. Scientific practices will always be qualified by human preferences and that is not regrettable.

    • Barbara Piper says

      If it’s any consolation, I wondered by the end of his first paragraph if Cortellesi was a student, and if this was a course paper. Certainly the former guess proved to be correct.

    • Santoculto says

      Beauty and love or empathy is the fundamental belief or better than a belief in its strict concept if this is true, absolutely true.

      We are not separated from beauty and love or empathy because we are not robot who don’t feel love, specially and or primarily for ourselves, and or who don’t search for beauty even in the most cruel acts.

      So, beauty and love are not ”just” a consolation prize in the sense i interpreted you suggested. .

  5. Intelligent Designer says

    I consider the “spiritual dimensions of experience” or the claim of “our metaphysical nature” rather a bug than a feature of the human brain.

    • Dan Vesty says

      Right, but considering the ubiquity of religion in human civilizations, that’s not a particularly scientific viewpoint, is it ?

      • Sunil Srivastava says

        The ‘bug of the human brain’ exists in all human civilizations, so that is a scientific viewpoint.

  6. valleevue says

    I would encourage the author to read some well-thought-out refutations of scientism, if only to familiarize himself with the objections that sincere scholars make. One can be convinced of the cognitive authority of science while understanding that such authority is limited to a certain domain.

    For example, suppose it is scientific consensus that Earth will warm by 2 degrees centigrade by 2050. The question remains of what we *ought* to do about this, and that is not a question that science can answer. Science can say, “If you want to survive as a species, you ought to do x, y, and z” (a hypothetical imperative). But it can’t say, “You ought to survive as a species” (a categorical imperative). Categorical imperatives are unconditional (in the logical sense) claims about what we ought to do, and since science if not about assessing value, it cannot make categorical claims.

    Basically, the scientist can’t tell me why I shouldn’t, say, murder an innocent person. S/he can tell me the likely legal, emotional, and relational consequences, as well as what will happen to the other person biologically, but s/he can’t say it’s wrong. So: be aware that scientism implies a rejection of moral objectivity, and with is the inability to say, “Hitler was a bad person.”

    Re the social sciences: I urge you to read the chapter on social sciences in Alasdair MacIntyre’s “After Virtue.”

  7. Nicholas Conrad says

    I understand ‘scientism’ as a formalized version of Feynman’s “cargo cult science” in which the appearance of scientific results are emulated without the underlying falsafiability in experiment. For Feynman, this was a charge against predominantly the social sciences. I believe this is basically what Sixsmith was objecting to in the second, more pernicious form of scientism in his article. And in general when people accuse science of ‘sticking it’s nose where it doesn’t belong’, i think it’s often a charge that science can’t competently execute in a domain, not that it shouldn’t even if it could.

    And even in the domain of solid hard science, don’t forget about the pessimistic meta-induction. Science only advances by proving established ‘truth’ to be wrong. Either we are at the end of science (seems unlikely) or some of what we believe to be true today we will know is false in a hundred years. Thus, even for your synthesis definition of scientism, when discussing the fruits of science and making truth claims from it, we would be wise to reserve some humility in deference to scientists yet to come.

    • valleevue says

      This is a good response. If the history of science is any indicator, then all of our current theories will eventually be replaced. This is not to say that existing theories are flat out “wrong.” I think we’ll come to see them much as we see Newtonian mechanics now – as excellent approximations for situations where nothing is all that small or moving all that fast.

      Your mention of Feynman is helpful, too. Although Feynman said something like, “Philosophy is about as useful for science as ornithology is for birds,” he grappled philosophically with the relationship between his diagrams and the real world, at times insisting that there was no real relation, that Feynman diagrams were just mathematically pragmatic tools.

      Lastly, I would encourage the author to reserve some humility not just in deference to science yet to come (which he should!), but also in deference to the philosophical foundations on which science is constructed – namely, materialism and (until the era of quantum mechanics) mechanism. Even Newton struggled with action-at-a-distance, hypothesizing at times that there must be (immaterial) angels stringing massive bodies together and causing gravitational attractions. But materialism is an assumption, and even good assumptions need to be defended. Moreover, it is not an empirically falsifiable assumption, so it cannot be defended by further scientific experimentation. This is one reason why there are philosophy departments, and why philosophical questions cannot be answered scientistically. In a way, the article itself demonstrates the limited domain of science: the author pulled from philosophers and historians to defend science because science cannot offer a defense of itself.

    • Caligula says

      A better example of scientism would be Social Darwinism.

      Science underpins the technology that makes the contemporary world possible; thus, it has (and arguably deserves) great prestige.

      Therefore, no one should be surprised when inevitably there are attempts to attach this prestige to endeavors which are not science, or which can’t be decided purely by the methods of science.

      Such as, deciding how and on what basis the fruits of production shall be distributed or, the amount of resources that should be allocated toward those who can’t provide for themselves. And (of course) who gets to decide these things, and what criteria are to be used in deciding them.

      Of course, at its most risible one sees such clumsy attempts at appropriation as “creation science” and “feminist science,” both of which fail as science because they start with answers and not with questions.

      • What’s wrong with Social Darwinism?

        Evolution? Check.

        Group Selection/Kinship Selection? Check.

        Evolution and Kinship Selection in Humans? Check.

        Conflict-Based Sociology? Check.

        Evolution + Kinship Selection + Conflict-Based Sociology? A priori wrong because . . .

      • According to Wikipedia, “The term social Darwinism is used to refer to various ways of thinking and theories that emerged in the second half of the 19th century and tried to apply the evolutionary concept of natural selection to human society. The term itself emerged in the 1880s, and it gained widespread currency when used after 1944 by opponents of these ways of thinking. The majority of those who have been categorized as social Darwinists did not identify themselves by such a label.”

        I see nothing wrong with applying evolutionary concepts to human societies, and I would classify those that do as being subspecies of either Biblical literalists or Marxists, and whose rejections are based on faith-commitments to religious or pseudo-religious dogma.

  8. Pingback: In Protest of Scientism – Semiotic Thomist

  9. I applaud Mr. Cortellesi’s enthusiasm, but believe he’s been intoxicated by a shallow draught of the Pierian spring. There are many, more sophisticated, and intelligent criticisms of scientism than those he attacks. The chief attack against scientism’s reductionist tendency is not that it is ontologically reductive, but epistemologically (see, e.g., Yves Simon’s chapter 9 in The Great Dialogue of Nature and Space).

    I wrote a longer reply here (https://semioticthomist.wordpress.com/2018/03/28/in-protest-of-scientism/) for any interested, and hopefully for Mr. Cortellesi himself.

  10. This article is silent about the most commonly accepted critiques of scientism in the field of Philosophy. There are several instances. By my count, four.

    The author is aware that the verificationism of the logical positivists was replaced by the falsificationism of Popper, but oddly speaks of that development as the state-of-the-art. Popper’s *Logic of Scientific Discovery* was published in *1959*. Good ideas don’t have a half life, so there is nothing wrong with using an old idea as such. (Far be it from me, a Platonist, from making that critique!) But when the whole field has moved on — in this case because falsificationism was shown to be false by Kuhn (among others) in the early 1960’s — one doesn’t derive confidence in this author’s “capacity for revision.”

    This is not to say Kuhn had the right philosophy of science either, but only that his critique of falsificationism was decisive. In brief, every “true” theory co-exists with falsifying evidence, but this is not sufficient to invalidate it (a la Popper). For example, Copernicus’s heliocentrism was “falsified” by the fact that jumping in the air does not leave you hundreds of miles westward when you land. This turned out not to be genuine falsification once an inertial mechanics had been developed by Galileo (and especially Newton) to supplant its Aristotelian rival. Or, for another example, Newtonian accounts of the heavenly motions were “falsified” by the perihelion of Mercury. This proved to be genuine falsification, but this was evident only after Einsteinian relativity theory provided the explanation of the phenomenon. In both cases, the theories (Copernicus’s in the first case, Newton’s in the second) saw their counter-examples as research projects, something to be explained. Some research projects succeed (heliocentrism explained the jumping, thanks to Newtonian mechanics), others fail (Newtonian mechanics could not explain the perihelion).

    Empirical science cannot adjudicate questions such as the philosophical dispute between verificationists, falsificiationists, and successive accounts of scientific method. This author defines scientism as: “the extension of scientific methodology into disciplines with which it has traditionally been considered incompatible, and valuing hard science more than (but not necessarily to the exclusion of) other disciplines in the search for what is true.” As stated, it’s innocuous. Empirical science was “traditionally” considered incompatible with the discipline of exorcism, and yet no one nowadays — not even the exorcists! — objects to the extension of its methodology into that field. But scientific success in one, or even many, “traditionally incompatible” fields does not warrant the induction of science’s (potential) success in all fields. The definition becomes troublesome, accordindly, when someone says empirical science should be extended into fields for which it is genuinely unsuited. What are those? Thinking about that is to do a little philosophy …

    The author thinks aesthetics is one field that is suited to scientific explanation, but Ben Sixsmith has already handled that fallacy. Which other fields does he think science can conquer? Very oddly, the author is silent here. This is very odd because philosophers generally agree on the fields for which empirical methods (by themselves) are inadequate. One of those fields is epistemology. On this understanding, science may give us knowledge and help us learn truths, but it can’t determine what *knowledge* and *truth* are. Indeed, it’s the fact that empirical science cannot adjudicate such epistemological questions that makes it unable to decide between rival philosophies of science (verificationism, etc.).

    I discuss this and another limit of empirical science — the leap from facts to values, of which aesthetic values are a type — in section IV of my essay on this site, “The Impasse Between Modernism and Postmodernism.” In the first section of the follow-up essay, “Premodernism of the Future,” I discuss briefly the philosophy of mathematics, another subject empirical science cannot determine. Ironically, empirical scientists use mathematics all the time, but their methods cannot possible induce the necessary truths of mathematics. But no one needs to read my essays for these arguments. This is all common knowledge in the field of Philosophy. Scientistic thinkers would not make such rookie mistakes if they were not so irrationally confident that empirical scientists have all the answers. In many cases, after all, they cannot even see the questions.

    http://quillette.com/2017/12/07/impasse-modernism-postmodernism/

    http://quillette.com/2017/12/07/premodernism-of-the-future/

    • valleevue says

      Thanks for this well-thought-out reply, Prof. Miller. I assume the author’s intentions were good, but it’s a classic example of “scientist wants to dispel the humanities.” I hope his inquiry continues charitably.

      One thing that your mention of Kuhn brings up, which the author should be interested in, is how Kuhn and the Kuhnian literature highlight the value of non-evidential factors (simplicity, mathematical elegance, etc) in evaluating scientific theories. Ben Sixsmith could make the further argument that scientific theory can be better explained by aesthetics than aesthetics by scientific theory. This is not to say that science is totally subordinate to aesthetics (as it is, or should be, to epistemology), but that aesthetic factors have a real influence on how pragmatically we can grapple with, understand, teach, and tweak scientific theories. Kuhn’s understanding of the Gestalt shift, which cuts so deeply across how we experience a phenomenon is, at heart, an aesthetic transformation that re-determines the epistemic questions we can even ask about that phenomenon.

      Do you know if there’s been anything good (and sincere to the scientist) written about the phenomenology of paradigm shifts in science?

      On a broader note, would you be willing to chime in on your Platonic understanding of science, or the relationship between empirical discoveries and truth in the Platonic sense? Are you sympathetic to Kuhn? If so, how do you understand paradigm (Gestalt) shifts in Platonic terms?

    • Barbara Piper says

      A friendly correction: Popper’s original Logik der Forschung was published in 1934; it was the English version that appeared in 1959, making your point even more relevant. Kuhn’s improvement, as you hint in your comment, was to be an historian of science rather than a philosopher of science, attending to what scientists actually do rather than to some abstract, idealized version of what science ought to do (e.g. falsification), and that may be one reason why many of us found Kuhn more agreeable.

  11. Omg. Why was this even posted?

    DEFINITIONS

    i) SCIENCE: a warranty of due diligence against ignorance, error, bias, and deceit.

    ii) SCIENTISM : overstating empiricism (correlation), without completing the applicable scope of due diligences, or attempting to apply tests of truth in matters of preference or good.

    iii) PSEUDOSCIENCE: Testifying to the truth of statements without having performed due diligence against ignorance error, bias, and deceit.

    iv) PSEUDO-RATIONALISM: Attempts to claim closure where closure does not exist in the logics without appeal to the next higher dimension (empiricism). In other words sophisms, no matter how skilled. Contradictions proposed rarely exist, and almost all questions of philosophy are non-existent bits of fraud due to the use of poor grammar and incomplete sentences. (For example, the liar’s paradox is not operationally possible.)

    ARGUMENT

    (1) The sciences consist of logical and physical means of falsification in each dimension of possible human action (categorically consistent, internally consistent(logical), externally correspondent(empirical), operationally possible(existential), rational choice(voluntary), reciprocal rational choice(moral), scope-completeness/limits-defined/surviving-parsimony.)

    (2) the sciences can therefore tell us what is false, and what at present appears to be true (meaning the science allow us to testify to having performed due diligence against ignorance, error, bias, and deceit.)

    (3) For some reason, we still conflate the logics (tests of constant relations between two or more states, in a set of dimensions), including mathematics (tests of constant positional relations given scale independence) and the deducibility (‘inference’) of relations given the inviolability of those constant relations. Very little of meaning can be said of logic other than it is extremely useful in the falsification of the logical – which is how we use it. Proofs appear to have very little value since given enough time nearly anything can be justified by verbal ‘proof’).

    (4) Philosophy at present is limited to the exploration and determination of preference (personal), and good (collective). But philosophy has a tragic reputation for nearly universal falsehood outside of those choices. In fact, current philosophy consists largely of self help on one side and a catalog of human errors in intuition on the other.

    (5) Literature consists of envisioning possible and impossible worlds, for the purpose of exploration, advocacy, and criticism.

    (6) We tend to conflate literature and logic (philosophy), and conflate History (myth), law (norm), literature (parable), and pseudoscience into theology, just as we inflate literature and reason into philosophy.

    (7) So while there is value in via positive imaginings (theology, philosophy, mythology) there exists only decidability (conflict resolution) via mathematics, science, history, and reciprocity (law).

    Ergo, if we must disagree, we must resort only to decidability independent of good or preference. If we seek possibilities, we must resort to literature, myth, and philosophy.

    Truth can only be produced via-negativa, and choice only by via positiva.

    Sorry. That’s all there is to the scope of human knowledge.

    Curt Doolittle
    The Propertarian Institute
    Kiev, Ukraine

  12. augustine says

    “Moreover, would discovering the exact neurochemical pathway that produces feelings of love rob that celebrated emotion of its potency?”

    We can leave science to investigate such things but that is not where it ends. All information can be used maliciously and some fear a world where “scientific” information about what makes us tick, whether personalized or generalized, will lead to bad things. There are plenty of examples in operation right now and evidence for exponential effects. This fear is based on the unscientific truth that human nature is, often enough, dark and murderous. It is also based on the unscientific history of our species.

    “Has he looked at images from the Hubble telescope, or appreciated the beauty and complexity of a cell?”

    Science, scientism and scientists have absolutely nothing to do with that beauty. Calling out beauty (physical, moral or otherwise) is the domain of man since his beginnings. Yours is another kind of beauty altogether.

  13. AtariKo says

    Is the question — should we welcome scientism? — a scientific one?

    You misunderstand Popper. His claim wasn’t that we couldn’t achieve verification, but rather the opposite: verification is cheap. Surviving the potential falsifiability is bold and risky predictions is what counts for Popper.

  14. Tom More says

    Science doesn’t explain, it describes with increasing elaboration. Scientism is really dumb. No astrophysics will ever discover the grand unified theorem that will explain all. How come? Physics is mathermatical. As Godel shows it will always contain elements that are unprovable. But its silly. Science is a tool of purpose , reason and human free will.. which cannot be coherently denied. (You need free will to freely judge if you have free will.. its that obvious.. and universal). What we need is the form . .in form and matter.. information.. Aristotle.. Aquinas.. Ed Feser’s good as is Mortimer Adler. Cheers.

  15. Scientism simply assures us there is “order” and details it. It’s a good thing, that, would be kind of goopy without it. But those cold fact cards are owned by the House, and we’ll need wild cards if we want to win this one. Especially the ‘get out of jail’ one.

    Evolution cares not one iotum for the fate of your personal order (DNA phenotype). Your one way ticket is expiring as you sit, and yes, it should. Good for one life cycle only.

    If you do care (and religion has formalized this as aspiration and faith) you will have to turn to your own species (Humanism) for its cooperative institutions and smart contracts as a ‘way through’.

    It is notable that the opportunity of Continuance, based on DNA stewardship is dismissed or ignored like cryonics, life extension, transhumanism, immortality etc. fixated on our mortal brains. Scientism ignores low tech wisdom. Save your seed instead.

    You can arrange a return ticket with no expiry date. Work toward it per below, and see how it makes you feel to have that banked, to see the sky for the first time.

    – Dwight. patreon.com/continuance

  16. Santoculto says

    Next post

    ”In defense of race-ISM”

    Scientism would be categorically described as the overuse of scientifical approach & narrative to explain and reduce everything to itself, a excessive descriptive and unemotional concretization of given reality. and also hyper-justified/”rationalize” by its supporters.

    often, scientism is strongly correlated with insensitiveness about ethics in science.

    Itself this word is already derrogative, an excess, a lack of reasonableness. Would be interesting if you change this from ”in defence of scientism” to ”in defence of science”.

  17. Pingback: Addendum to Quillette on Scientism – Bacon’s Bridge

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