‘God does not play dice.’
This simple phrase, taken (as is even needless to say) from perhaps the most publicly recognized intellectual figure of the past century, in a certain sense stands as the watchword of an era. In the space of five simple words, one of the foremost ‘scientists’ of this or any time has managed to introduce the idea of a deity, to tacitly deny that same deity in its miraculous or moral dimensions, and to assert with all the simple certainty of a secular faith that mathematics underpins the universe, and hence that modern science is the method for the study of the structure of reality. No wonder then that this phrase should be so commonplace today, repeated with a kind of certitude if not smugness, posted on the walls of schools and houses, accompanied not rarely by the portrait of its speaker, which has become to us (in what might form the matter for an essay all its own) the mustachioed avatar of our time – antipode, incidentally, of a certain other face, it too with its mustaches, only this one the sinister representative of all that is evil.
It is sometimes asserted that the Right today is the natural friend of science. There is an element of truth in this which is so visible it hardly needs noting: for science, in its purest form (and there is a question as to what extent that purest form any long represents the working reality of science, at least in the most important of its frontiers),1 looks certain aspects of reality fearlessly in the face, quite despite any of the madder fantasies of the progressivist left. Science is, moreover, at its best, the expression of a will to truth which is the natural concomitant of the Right’s own specifically moral dimension. Science is thus one natural, if limited, remedy to those excesses of egalitarianism which exist in blatant contempt of nature or even of physical possibility, and a last, if somewhat beleaguered and self-contradictory, redoubt for the old ideas of virtue, hierarchy and rank.
Against this use of science, we have nothing to object; it is rather to the abuses of science which we would like here to turn our attention. Put in a word, it is not science as such that we would critique, but rather scientism – the a priori reduction of the entirety of existence to the mathematical-scientific understanding, which unilaterally presupposes, without preliminary investigation or the least shred of evidence, that science and science alone is the sole or the best method for comprehending all phenomena without exception, from the atom to the man, from matter to life, from energy to consciousness, from the stone to the heart to the soul.
Against this science, this scientism so prevalent to our day, the Right has excellent reasons for offering resistance and just critique: ours is indeed one of the few perspectives from which such resistance and critique is any longer possible. The Deep Right must at the very least cultivate a careful scepticism of science in its thoroughgoing critique of this modern project, of which science is eminently a centrepiece. That places a great burden upon our shoulders – a duty which the present author is sadly incapable of discharging in full. But as it appears to me that science has largely been granted a free pass in our time, and that the very deep theoretical and metaphysical problems with science as a body have yet to be adequately addressed or even in many cases noted, I will make some modest attempt in the direction, in hopes that men who are better versed in the sciences, and better prepared in metaphysics itself, might carry on where I have left off.
The Modern Roots of Science
The word ‘science’, which we nowadays, in yet another sign of our ingenuity and special intellectual limitations, thoughtlessly arrogate to modern science alone, was historically identical to, or at least inseparable with, the idea of Western philosophy itself. It was used interchangeably with the term ‘philosophy’ or ‘natural philosophy’ by every thinker from Aristotle to Aquinas, up even to the early modern luminaries themselves, such as Bacon, Descartes, and Newton, as the titles of some of their major works clearly indicate: Novum Organum Scientarum, Opuscula Posthuma Physica et Mathematica (an unfinished Cartesian treaty on his new philosophical method), Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica. The new science proposed by the early moderns was not supposed to be a secession from philosophy, but rather its wholesale revolution; and the subsequent division of modern thought into science on the one hand and philosophy on the other represents, not the success of that project, but in a very real sense its failure.2
Coming at the matter from the other side, it has likewise been asserted by some that modern science, like philosophy itself, is merely the natural and necessary outcome of Greek thought. Isabel Paterson,3 for instance, in her aptly named God of the Machine, suggests that what stopped the Greeks from attaining our level of technological superiority was not at all an inherent limitation in their thought, but only in their economies:
The Greeks actually invented a crude steam engine, but were unable to perfect it and put it to use, for lack of a political organization which would allow such a high potential. … The required organization was not to be devised for almost two thousand years.4
So we are given to understand that, had the Greeks but reordered their societies so as to make them more individualistic and libertarian, more laissez-faire and money-oriented, less damnably leisurely and aristocratic – in brief, more like our own – then they would have seen a flourishing of technology such as we have seen, and would in no time have reached the same ‘heights’ some two millennia in advance of us. Nietzsche seems at times to consider matters in a similar light: ‘To what end the Greeks? to what end the Romans? – All the prerequisites to a learned culture, all the methods of science, were already there… All gone for naught! Overnight it became a mere memory!’5 The culprit, needless to say, was Christianity. Only that Nietzsche, in a peculiarly Nietzschean twist, sometimes suggests that Greek science might even have been superior to our own, thus opening the question of whether there may not be a variety of ‘sciences’, rather than merely that single one which we almost haughtily presuppose in the very term that we use to speak of it.
Yet to seek the origins of our science in the science of Antiquity is perhaps to ignore categorical divisions between them, the existence of which is strongly suggested by the very transformation in terminology we have just noted. In the field of mathematics, for instance, which is a staple element of contemporary science, insistence on a historical scientific consistency elides the fundamental transformation of the very idea of number which came with modernity, in the work of men like Descartes and Newton.6 Spengler’s insistence that the modern world should be regarded as its own civilization/culture, rather than as the extension of antiquity, though in our view this idea must be taken with great care in most places, here, at least, seems well enough founded: there is almost nothing standing in common between Euclidean or Apollonian or Archimedean geometry on the one hand, and Cartesian algebra or Newtonian calculus on the other – not to speak of the almost ‘postmodern’ shift represented by the likes of Dedekind, Lambert or Saccheri! These forms of mathematics are separated one from the other by the chasm, not only of almost two thousand years, but of fundamentally conflicting worldviews. Similarly, Ptolemaic astronomy does not stand with respect to Copernican or Keplerian or Galilean astronomy in the relation of an ignorant and crude system with respect to a sophisticated and more precise or elegant one, as we often like to presume: the decisive difference between the ancient and the modern systems is Ptolemy’s refusal to ignore the moral, religious and political implications of the theory of the movement of the heavens, and Copernicus’, Kepler’s and Galileo’s blithe, and so very scientistic, insistence on so ignoring.7
The roots of specifically modern science are thus best sought in the Renaissance and early Enlightenment, and for that reason alone should infuse in us a degree of caution when we speak of or contemplate the emergence and quality of science. Those theoreticians and practitioners (in the green days of early modernity, one often enough made little distinction between the two), from Copernicus to Galileo Galilei, from Bacon to Lavoisier, from Huygens to Newton to Descartes and Hobbes, proposed from the start a means of approaching the study of the world based on two fundamental elements: mathematics and experimentation. Supposing one took these (as many if not all of these men did) as an approach, not to this or that aspect of the world, but to the world as such – supposing one viewed this ‘new science’ not as a partial science, or one science among many, but as the science, the universal science – then one worked necessarily from a number of presuppositions, we are tempted even to say axioms, as: the world is basically homogeneous rather than basically heterogeneous, so that a single right method can lead to total knowledge of the whole; the homogeneous matter (whatever that might be) which constitutes the world is thoroughly mathematical or susceptible of mathematical treatment in all its parts, so that the right method must itself be mathematical or must work through the medium of mathematics; the causal relations standing between any given condition or event and the conditions or events which follow are rigidly determined and flow in a unidirectional manner with respect to time; the laws governing man himself, and the human world, are reducible to the laws governing the material or mathematizable world, so that man can be understood reductively, with reference to his material or mathematizable elements; there exists no supernatural force which transcends and thus is capable of breaking or rearranging these laws; that creature which alone of the Earthly beings is capable of consciously experiencing the world, namely man, can understand the medium of his experience, namely consciousness, by understanding the empirical world which is the object of the same, despite the fact that these two things, ‘subject’ and ‘object’, medium and material, experience and the experienced, appear to be fundamentally different in kind; etc.
These suppositions, each one in itself highly questionable from the philosophical point of view, were never proved in the early days of science, nor have they been demonstrated since.8 But science in its rapid and astonishing technological successes from its earliest days up to the present, has been given leave to lay them aside, taking them as essentially proven de facto. The rise of science and its marvellous practical achievements in ‘techne’, economics and and medicine have largely and with very few exceptions given it a kind of carte blanche in human society, from the moral, the legal, and the political and economic points of view.
Only that in recent times, two factors have permitted the reopening of the question of the limitations and proper rank of science. The first is that, despite its ceaseless promises to provide universal knowledge of the heavens and the earth, science has failed again and again to comprehend what is to the human being, and perhaps also in and of itself, one of the foremost and central parts of existence: the human world, the anthropomorphic or anthropocentric or anthropological sphere. Science does not understand the human being with even one tenth the accuracy and efficacy with which it has succeeded in comprehending the material world. Secondly, science has led us step by step to a point at which any number of scientifically produced situations9 have the potential, not only to strike a monstrous blow against human existence, but to annihilate it altogether. The scientific, or better say scientistic response to this quandary is to look to science to resolve the problems that science has produced, which is something like hoping that an illness will cure itself without any external intervention, or that the crimes of a tyrant can best be resolved by granting him yet more power and money, or that one can save one’s best shovel from rust by leaving it longer in the damp – a remarkable abdication of any independent responsibility.
To be sure, some one or other of our scientistic intellectuals will all too predictably pop up here with the obligatory response: all technological development, beginning from the harvesting of fire itself, has had this inherent double aspect; even a kitchen knife can kill. And well can we agree to this proposition. Only that all previous ages conceived of this fact as demonstrating the necessity of responsibly monitoring, administering and guiding technological development (one does not hand a child a loaded handgun), whereas we are content to let things go willy-nilly wherever they may, and have utterly forgotten the meaning of moral authority, moral responsibility. For science qua science foregoes all moral questions and spiritual distinctions from the start.
In short, scepticism regarding science is growing, and it would take a very rash man to claim that the critique to issue from it is entirely without its reasons. In many cases, to be sure, this scepticism itself takes irresponsible and irrational forms, and has the feel about it of merest reaction. Excess in one direction breeds excess in another, and seldom with justification. Nonetheless, one need not embrace ‘flat earth theory’ or the crudest creationism to recognize that there might be something lacking in the cosmology and anthropology of modern science. The present state of affairs opens the possibility of truly investigating the underpinnings of science, to see to what extent they justify the unprecedented authority which science has been passively yielded in our day.
We profit from this situation to investigate but a few of the most incisive theoretical and methodological reasons to take science with a dose of healthy scepticism – as indeed even the best scientists should certainly admit is but normal and desirable in the pursuit of their aims.
A Critique of Temporal Causality
We begin with what is perhaps the central tenet of what we might call scientific metaphysics: the exclusive existence of a single kind of causality governing all the world.
Scientific method hinges decisively on the possibility of experimentation, which in turn cannot exist in the absence of reproducibility. It is useless, from a strict scientific point of view, to witness a phenomenon empirically, even several times over, if one cannot wilfully repeat the conditions which have given rise to that phenomenon in a rigorously controlled environment. Not even the strict mathematical or logical inferences stemming from this or that prior scientific discovery can stand in the absence of independent validation via experimentation; to note only one of the most celebrated examples of this scientific strictness, Einstein, and the better part of the scientific community with him, refused to consider his theory of relativity validated, despite its extreme mathematical rigour, until it were actually put to physical trial, and the resulting evidence had without any doubt shown its support of his conclusions. This is so elementary a part of scientific method that it is generally taken for granted, and indeed is offered up (in a way rightly) with a certain hint of scientistic pride as one of the points of simple superiority of science over all non-scientific thought (which, naturally, includes the vast majority of pre-modern philosophy).
Before scientific method could ever be taken for the method for understanding the universe, it was necessary to fundamentally modify pre-scientific philosophy to accommodate it. One of the most important of these modification occurred in the very idea of causality itself. In the reigning scholastic philosophy of early modernity, which traced its heritage directly back to Aristotle, causality was understood as being of four different kinds: formal, material, effective and final.10 The scientific revolution in thought consisted in reducing this qaudripartite causality to a single type of causality, which in Aristotelian terms could perhaps be understood as a combination of material and effective causality. Bacon, for instance, understood the transformation in this sense: ‘Physics doth make inquiry, and take consideration of the same natures: but how? Only as to the material and efficient causes of them, and not as to the forms.’11 As far as final causes go, and the teleology they imply, Bacon did not bite his tongue on the question: ‘[N]am causarum finalium inquisitia sterilis est, et, tanquam virgo Deo consecrata, nihil parit.’12
We of today are so accustomed to seeing the world in terms of this single type of causality that it is often most difficult for us to access the elder view; in a great many cases, one is even at a loss to imagine what Aristotle could have been on about with his fourfold declension. Yet the reduction of causality to a single kind was in the best cases undergone in the most fitting, and most scientific, spirit of hypothesis: to what extent can the world be understood, if reduced to this single kind of causality? We have forgotten that there might even be a question here, and take this kind of causality universally for granted; it has become, rather than one of the hypotheses of science, one of its axioms.
The problematic nature of this hypothesis from the philosophical point of view should be perfectly evident, and the only reason we cannot see it with due clarity, is the apotheosis of science and scientific or scientistic thought in our time. Quite beyond the eternally pertinent Humean objection13 that there is nothing whatever to make us suppose that causality of this kind will not suddenly ‘stop working’ (which objection science has never and indeed never could address, quite despite Kant’s dogmatic awakening), there is a further and indeed deeper problem.
Science is premised on the tacit rejection of all causality save for that single form we have identified, and which for convenience we might term ‘temporal’. Science cannot disprove any other kinds of causality for the simple reason that its own method is premised on the one kind; the entire range of its experimentation, the entire scope of its ability to derive evidence or empirical data or to validate hypotheses or theories, rests on that single reproducible type of causality. It cannot subject any other kind of hypothetical causality to the trials of its method, save as those other types of causality are already reducible to temporal causality – which means that, insofar as they are not reducible to temporal causality, they lie necessarily beyond the realm which science is capable of investigating. Science rests, then, on a floating presupposition, one which is both indemonstrable by science itself, and by which science, as a universal system, stands or falls.
The only recourse that science has at this point is to prove the tree by its fruit: it must demonstrate the validity of its presuppositions by showing itself capable of comprehending the world without remainder by their light. If it is able to do this – if in the trial of experience, science shows itself ecumenical in its knowledge – then the other kinds of causality surely vanish as figments in the air. Yet to achieve such a thing, science must attain a perfect or at least comprehensive theory of the universe, which is, according to the latest theories regarding science (see, for instance, Kuhn, Popper, Peirce, etc.) essentially beyond the capacity of science to attain. Total comprehension remains always and ever, at best, an unreachable goal or a pious hope for science, so that whenever one encounters a phenomenon that science is presently unable to adequately explain by its method (as for instance human consciousness), one simply chalks this up to a temporary failure on science’s part, due to nothing more than the fact that science simply has need of more time to compass that particular phenomenon within its sphere. That is to say: one has faith that science will sooner or later arrive at an understanding of this part of reality, too.
Science, of course, can always indicate its spectacular achievements in the field of the natural sciences as a kind of down payment on this question, as incidental proof that it will be quite able to repay all debts at some future tomorrow. But there is a priori nothing at all to indicate that the universe is so homogeneous in its quality that methodological success in one portion of it is perforce guaranteed in another; may well be that the results of science in this physical region or temporal age of the universe do not apply to some other physical portion or temporal age of the universe; and there is no reason even to suppose that certain periods even within the small arc of human history have not been governed wholly or in part by other laws. Or again, there is no reason to suppose a priori that the cosmos in this very moment and in our own cosmic region is not composed of various levels or overlapping spheres, the laws of each of which are wholly or partially distinct from one another, so that science, while being perfectly compatible with one of these and perfectly able to arrive at competent results within it, would stand to another somewhat in the relation of a ruler to a scale.
Most intriguingly, this last possibility is indicated by contemporary science itself, which appears at present to be pressing hard against some manner of barrier intrinsic to the world, which is lain simultaneously and indelibly around its own method. As but indications of this possibility: the very idea of causality that we have been discussing seems to break down altogether at the microscopic level, as is indicated by the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. Einstein resisted this implication (the quotation with which we opened this essay is indeed an expression of his revolt against it), but his resistance inevitably reduces to that same scientific faith that we have indicated above, the faith in temporal causality. The results of science at present give no reason to suspect that the conclusions drawn by quantum mechanics are erroneous or imprecise; quite the contrary. It would appear that there is a degree of ‘randomness’ which meets the scientist who presses too far in this direction; rather than the clear and simple causality which one believes one is seeking, one finds rather ‘noise’ or ‘chaos’, which is to say – noise or chaos as interpreted from the point of view of science, which does not know how to get its hands round anything that does not proceed from temporal causality alone. Something similar seems to happen at the macroscopic level: the expansion of the universe, so far as we are able to measure it, appears to be acting in contrariety to the laws proposed by science, accelerating at an increasing rate at its fringes where it should in fact be doing the opposite in accordance with the gravity of the matter it has left behind; so that one must seek out some hypothetical or tertiary explanation (‘dark matter’, ‘phantom energy’, etc. – terms whose very language indicates a certain degree of ignorance and perplexity on the part of their inventors) in order to come to grips with these phenomena.
Another potential indication of the barrier inscribed around scientific thought: Science at present is confronting a fascinating emergency in its method known as the ‘replication crisis’.14 In recent years it has been confirmed that there is a sizeable percentage of scientific or laboratory results which cannot be reproduced. The percentage of such non-reproducible results varies from scientific field to scientific field, but it seems to me not at all coincidental that the worst affected areas are psychology and medicine, with the social sciences strongly implicated as well. Most of the discussion regarding this problem revolves around reflection on peer-review and the valid borders or abuses of statistical analysis, since it is gratuitously assumed that the difficulty is merely in the implementation of scientific method, rather than in that method itself. We, who are not so constrained by this naïve faith in the universal efficacy of science, do not hesitate to suggest that there might be another and deeper factor at work here: namely, the impossibility of reproducing ‘results’ which are obtained in a field, namely the human sphere, which simply cannot be reduced to effective and non-teleological causality.
This last, to be sure, is an aspect of science which has subsisted since its very earliest days, and which is most important to us, as it exists, not in the microscopic or the macroscopic, but within the human experience itself: it would appear that the living world, and especially the human world, is not reducible to temporal causality alone, and therefore exceeds the grasp of science. The most visible consequences of this are to be found in the utter failure on the part of philosophy proper to produce a mathematical science of man and of society (Hobbes, Descartes, Kant, Marx and Husserl are but a few of the foremost representatives of this failure) which is equivalent in rigour and results to the science of physics and chemistry. This led to the fateful scission between science and philosophy in the early centuries of modernity, which is reflected but wanly in the contemporary division between the humanities and the sciences, or the hard sciences and the soft or pseudo-sciences. Biology would appear to occupy an intermediate position between these points, as the life of plants and animals is more subject to those laws of which science properly treats than is the life of man, while there are evidently elements (such as, for instance, the very origin of life; also the specific ‘mechanisms’ by which DNA is supposed to compose entire organisms from miniscule ‘building blocks’; also the incommensurability standing between the external, measurable world and the internal, unmeasurable world; also the problem of the self-evident teleology inherent to living systems, which we will address in Part 2 of this essay; and other similar difficulties) which to this day remain elusive.15
Perhaps the most evident aspect of this difficulty is to be found in the problem of consciousness. The scientific comprehension of consciousness in many ways represents the most difficult task confronting science in our time. The understanding of consciousness via scientific means must regard consciousness strictly in terms of that mathematical causality we have been discussing; this means reducing consciousness to elements and to factors which are not strictly accessible to consciousness, save through the most indirect scientific means (neural functioning, physiological changes, etc.). Now, all scientific understanding is the understanding of the scientific community, which means, of scientists; this understanding comes exclusively through their conscious weighing of the data, experiments, measurements, etc. at their disposal. All scientific research must be consciously verified by scientists; even the scientific ‘conclusions’ of the most sophisticated computer will never be accepted by a scientist save as he has understood them. The scientist then relies on a medium which his science cannot understand and whose very existence in some cases seems to deny.
Looking at all of this from a suprascientific point of view, and laying aside for a moment the touching faith that science can resolve every problem if only given enough time, the problems we have identified would seem to indicate that science is as sand falling in an hour glass, gradually striking upon the walls which determine its limits, already utterly filling that space within which it is truly at home – and beyond which, the greater part of the universe still somehow persists, visible to those who have their eyes open, quite without the benefit of ‘scientific method’ – visible, that is to say, to man, the microcosm, in whose soul the cosmos is reflected as in a mirror, and who is the rightful but self-forgetful master of that very scientific knowledge which in our day, has begun instead to master him.
1It is not the purpose of this essay to consider the degree to which contemporary science fails to live up to its merely pragmatic ideals – to what extent such simple and fundamental mechanisms as e.g. peer-review and reproducibility, might be compromised by human biases or by the establishment of dogmas within science itself. This is a serious problem confronting science, and the fact that a great many scientists still deny it cannot help but make one yet more sceptical of their famous ‘objectivity’. We might indicate simply that, so far as the present cultural war is concerned, three major points of reference are to be found in the fields of genetics, global warming and evolutionary theory. In these three fields (though not only in these three fields) a kind of established dogma has begun to petrify, which not only prejudices new scientific discoveries, but in many cases actively suppresses or ignores them, or wilfully interprets them as being merely not yet comprehensible in light of the extant teachings in these fields – thus perpetuating an almost religious doctrinalism within an intellectual realm which was meant from the start to stand in contrast to all mere faith and indemonstrable beliefs. It would be impossible to provide a suitable list of resources on these questions here, but I will mention what seem to me a few good sources here. The database at American Renaissance will of course be known to my readers, but it is invaluable for research into the suppression of genetic thought in the sciences; see, e.g., https://www.amren.com/tag/science-and-genetics/. As far as global warming goes, I will be the last to deny that an age of spiritual imbalance such as those afflicting our age must lead to imbalances also in the natural world, as the higher inevitably influences the lower; still, this must be rigorously differentiated from mere pseudo-scientific findings which are manipulated to accord with specific globalistic political agendas; see, for more, James Corbett’s ‘Lies, Damned Lies, and Global Warming Statistics’. For the question of evolution, see Cremo & Thompson, Forbidden Archeology as well as the essay by Fulvio Saggiomo, ‘When Form Ignored Darwin’, available in my translation on Arktos Journal.
2Some contemporary thinkers attempt to reclaim the older sense of science, using the term in its pre-modern acceptation. Leo Strauss, for instance, often tends in such a direction; likewise Monika Hamilton, who has offered a very deep critique of modern metaphysics in this very journal, ‘Philosophia Mortis’. Though I entirely endorse these attempts and the reconciliation, or reorientation, which they represent, it is equally evident that they fly in the face of conventional use of the terms ‘science’ and ‘philosophy’ today. My attempt here is to consider this particular division, and to critique it; I thus consider my efforts to be supplementary to, rather than antagonistic to, the aforementioned.
3Paterson is often remembered now, when she is remembered at all, as the friend or the teacher of the much more famous Ayn Rand. Nonetheless as a stylist and as a thinker, Paterson deserves special and independent consideration. Though to the present writer she seems decidedly blinkered by the variety of modernistic myths, nonetheless her insight on them is fresh and incisive, and she gives even those who disagree with her cause for thought.
4Isabel Paterson, The God of the Machine (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2002), p. 28.
5The Antichrist, § 59 (Tucson: See Sharp Press, 1999), translation by H. L. Mencken.
6Cf. Jacob Klein, Greek Mathematical Thought and the Origin of Algebra (New York: Dover, 1992).
7Consider Ptolemy’s ‘Centiloquoy’, as well as certain indications given in very opening lines of his Almagest. Consider as well Plato, Laws, Book VII, 820e–822d, and Aristotle, Physics, 199a3–5; cf. Galileo, ‘Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina’. In this latter work, while defending his own approach, Galileo likens it to that of Copernicus, saying, ‘For Copernicus never discusses matters of religion or faith, nor does he use arguments that depend on any way upon the authority of sacred writings which he might have interpreted erroneously. He stands always upon physical conclusions pertaining to the celestial motions, and deals with them by astronomical and geometrical demonstrations, founded primarily upon sense experiences and very exact observations’. Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo (trans. Stillman Drake; New York: Anchor Books, 1957), p. 179.
8In a very restricted sphere, consider William Whewell’s superb philosophic-scientific critique of atomic theory, which was not only never answered, but was indeed completely ignored and subsequently forgotten: Whewell, The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences, Book 1, Chapter 5 ‘Atomic Theory’, which can be accessed here. Truly, when one looks to Modernity in search of metaphysical justifications of science, one looks almost in vain. Better quarry is to be had, surprisingly or perhaps unsurprisingly, in Antiquity: Protagoras and Lucretius give much more satisfying foundational defences of science, than any modern scientist of whom I am aware. One might also consider Nietzsche’s ‘quanta of power’ in this light, though I for one tend to agree with Julius Evola here: Nietzsche, whenever he approaches a kind of materialistic or mechanical view of the world, is living beneath himself.
9To wit: nuclear weapons, environmental degradation, genetically modified super-diseases, the run-away growth of ‘artificial intelligence’ or ‘genetic engineering’, the imminent menace of some kind of world-gobbling ‘singularity’, the mechanization of human society and the work force, the mechanization of the human soul, the extreme psychological ramifications of our present ‘digital revolution’, or any number of other egregious and at present absolutely unpredictable developments resulting from some future ‘scientific progress’ etc. etc.
10See Aristotle, Physics, Book II §3 and Metaphysics, Book V §2.
11Francis Bacon, Advancement of Learning, Book II, Chapter VII, § 6; cf. De dignitate et augmentis scientiarum, Book III, Chapter IV.
12‘Inquiry into final causes is sterile, and, as a virgin consecrated to God, begets nothing.’ De dignitate et augmentis scientiarum, Book III, Chapter V. Needless to say, other and more contemporary thinkers have followed the great proto-scientist along the path he indicated. To provide but a short sampling: ‘[E]xperience has shown that the mechanistic question leads to scientific knowledge whereas the teleological question does not’, Bertrand Russell, History of Western Philosophy, (Unwin paperbacks, 1946), p. 84. ‘There is no purpose revealed in the laws of nature’, Steven Weinberg, ‘Can Science Explain Everything?’ The New York Review of Books, 2001 https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2001/05/31/can-science-explain-everything-anything/ (accessed 2 November, 2018). ‘[M]eaning, morality and purpose … aren’t built into the architecture of the universe; they emerge as ways of talking about our human-scale environment’, Sean Carroll, The Big Picture (New York: Dutton, 2016), p. 389. ‘Purpose springs from our longing for permanence in an ever-changing universe. It is a reaction to the universe’s indifference to us’, Joseph Carter, ‘The Universe Doesn’t Care About Your Purpose’, The New York Times, 2017 https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/31/opinion/the-universe-doesnt-care-about-your-purpose.html (accessed 2 November, 2018). Cf. Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, Book I, §14.
13See Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature (1896), Part III, §XI, ‘Of the probability of Chances’.
14For a decent introduction to this problem, see Rupert Sheldrake, ‘The Replicability Crisis in Science’, https://www.sheldrake.org/essays/the-replicability-crisis-in-science. For a variety of resources related to this problem, https://fabiusmaximus.com/2016/04/19/replication-crisis-in-science-95394/ is a good place to begin.
15I cannot urge my readers strongly enough to read through the entirety of the essay ‘When Form Ignored Darwin’, which I have translated, and which is available in Arktos Journal; this is one of the finest and most condensed refutations of Darwinistic evolution I have come across, and one which possesses as well the distinct and precious merit of suggesting viable alternatives to the same.
I believe that science, like the intellect, is useful as a tool to better understand reality. If instead it becomes a metaphysical entity endowed with absolute Truths, it inevitably degrades into scientism, one of the many diseases of the modern world.
I agree entirely. Though I would add this further point, which seems to me a necessary corollary to what you have said: Science is a tool, but it is also a special kind of tool — a tool which produces tools; a tool capable of propagating its own power. It is for that reason one of the most powerful tools available to man. Any tool in irresponsible hands can be misused; the greater damage a given tool is capable of performing, the more we are liable to set restrictions on its use, and to attempt to establish situations in which only fit and responsible persons can employ it. Anyone may use a butter knife, be he child or man, but we understand that pocket knives, for instance, should be permitted to a man only when he has reached a certain age. At the extremity, no one under the sun would sanely propose granting every single human being his own personal atomic bomb. Science, then, as the greatest tool, the tool with the greatest potential for harm, should be relegated exclusively to use of the most responsible human beings, the wisest human beings – all the moreso since science is, as you rightly say, a ‘tool to better understand reality’.
This was an exceptionally insightful analysis, Mr. Leonard. I was relieved to quickly come upon your orienting endorsement of science, not scientism. Aside, I want to live in a place were “Science, Not Scientism” would make an effective bumper sticker. Your recognition of both reproducibility and consciousness as pivotal topics is spot-on correct. The difficulties posed by these matters are at the heart of why economics, as it is presently practiced, is useless for policy making other than for bamboozling readers of the ‘Wall Street Journal’ and ‘The Economist’ with cover stories for pre-determined economic and political manipulations and ends. The desperate incantation, ‘ceteris paribus’, employed to the excess with which it must be employed, cannot save the witch of the dismal science from melting. Underpinning my comment to your recent interview, “Lovers of Sophia with Jason Reza Jorjani,” was the fruitfulness that I have found in being a student of Aristotle as well as a natural scientist. See, if you will, my remarks regarding the totality of information (“Every It from a Bit.”—John Archibald Wheeler) and the concept that I have been trying to introduce: the “form-form bridge.” Lest the materialists dismiss this as more angels on a pin, I believe that the physical and the metaphysical arguments that I am trying to finalize will adequately address this challenge. Reacting to the perspective of Sir Francis that you cite in this article, I would simply say that I prefer my Bacon in the pan, not in my reasoning. And he himself jumps right into the pan–the weighing pan–and proves himself far too light in the balance. No, all Four Causes are necessary and, should we be successful as some of us are trying to do, we will be able to demonstrate how this works. Scientism threw up its white flag when it bought into the eliminative materialism of philosophers like Paula Churchland. (As a trivial anecdote, I remember having a discussion with her in my office and how uncomfortably she kept glancing at the crucifix on the wall. So incongruous an experience it must have been for someone with her perspective.) It is this question of consciousness that really is our great hope. It is not only the “hard problem,” but it is the greatest opportunity as well. John Searle, a delightful person in conversation, and who keenly parsed semantics from syntax in refutation of computationalism–once advised me that there was no point in trying to pursue the mind-brain problem–as I understood his warning–in scientific terms. (Maybe the advice was specific for me, and not to be taken as a judgement on the enterprise itself!) I have spent decades disagreeing with that advice as much as I appreciated its frankness. The lack of success in fields like psychology and economics is their failure to notice that the human brain is the great and evermore fine mixer of causes. It is the thing the natural world whose form and function are specifically commensurate with this task. Simply considering the overly limiting restriction of science to the first two of the Aristotelian causes, these modernist disciplines fail. They fail in the intractability of their project when the thing in the dissecting pan is the confounder of causality. This role as confounder, both as game theorist and game practitioner, probably has origins in the dynamics of the predator-prey relationship wherein it is necessary to disrupt the tractatus of pursuit by strategic unpredictability—just what scientific method tries to reduce in order to fix the plumbing and get paid. The combinatorial mixing of just the material and the formal causes may be beyond the calculating powers of even quantum computers. We will see. But the tools of scientism, devoid of fully equipped science, is unable to grapple with the efficient and final causes. But this does not mean that the Full Science cannot satisfy those current, innocent and docile practitioners of science who have kept an open mind. As a an anti-climactic note, “Here. here” to your checking the celebrity that has been excessively and deliberately attached to Einstein, the man. The accomplishments of he and his wife must be recognized, of course. But Albert is someone who had little worthwhile to say about the grand-scale of human affairs as well as some aspects of science. I would much rather that our schools informed students more of Werner Heisenberg and John von Neuman. As for the opinion expressed in Footnote 12, “‘Purpose springs from our longing for permanence in an ever-changing universe. It is a reaction to the universe’s indifference to us’, Joseph Carter, ‘The Universe Doesn’t Care About Your Purpose’, The New York Times, 2017,” I find this to be the kind of useless, know-nothing remark that causes me to avoid pedestrian fora for doing public thinking. It is the typical agenda-friendly remark that paints humans as pathetically in need of psychological crutches, crutches that must be kicked out by the pseudo-elite, thought masters and crafters of perception, such as at the paymasters, editors, writers and readers of the ‘New York Times’.
This is a very good summary. Paradoxically for scientist-believers, it seems that many fields converge in showing the limits of science.
The problem of consciousness and its relation to the scientific endevour of encompassingly explaining it, is implicitly addressed by information science: Information can never be bigger than the container holding it. A consciousness consciously understanding it‘s own workings is a theoretical impossibility and also a paradoxical mind-game that Star Trek episodes are made of.
It is an impossibility on an individual level and also on the collective level.
For all the scorn I have for blind belief in science (or anything else), I might add that I cherish the Faustian ethos shown by all scientists in their manic pursuit of truth (it is a mania, even the doctors producing advancements are NOT doing it to help, but because it is their disposition) and I also delight in the Gnostic revival shown by the „scientists of humanity“ like Kant and Marx who tried to lead humanity to a new paradise.
Jürgen, your point that information contained within a volume is proportional to the surface area of that bounded space, not its volume, was appreciated. Regarding the Faustian impulses, at least the impulses to know, there is still value in incomplete knowledge even though infinitely lesser than that of Omniscience himself. And human knowing, and the advancement of human knowing, is certainly useful in countering human errors of knowing and human deceptive, mis-informaing.
David, being a scientist myself, and a practitioner I do very concretely realize the advantages of science. With „Faustian“, I also describe my own experience because I find myself advancing my practice further and further, and liking to do so, with the main motivation being said advancement itself.
Jürgen, I thank you for your comments.
I agree with you entirely that there is something admirable in the ‘manic pursuit of the truth’, and wherever this is to be found in the contemporary sciences it deserves its share of cautious respect. Yet I wonder if you have not put your finger on the trouble here, and the danger, with the word ‘Faustian’?
For certainly, the love of truth is a very ancient proposition. It goes back at least to Socrates, if not before. What is unique to science is not the love of truth per se, but rather a special kind of ‘truth seeking’ which is characterized, among other things, by the belief that this ‘truth’ (a great many scientists would forswear the word) can be arrived at via an exclusively empirical method, and by the belief that this ‘truth’ can and should be publicized to the maximum, broadcast to all the world not the moment it has been set upon. Without this publication and this broadcasting, the ‘truth’ cannot be used to master nature, and this mastery is at once the condition and the aim of scientific method; it is power, and not truth, which the scientist most fundamentally craves. This is the ‘Faustian’ element of modern science, and I believe there is a real and open question whether it does not precisely represent an invocation of the infernal powers, consequences be damned.
John, I think we are regressing. In scientific endeavors, we either need to establish a separate category of natural truth or simply call it a different name. Every scientist should have that humble understanding that he or she cannot prove anything. Our understandings, scientifically obtained, are statistical, tentative and always available to be reconceptualized into a more thoroughly explanatory system of theories. Scientific observations are susceptible to measurement errors (ultimately the Heisenberg Principle) or to variation of the observed object or event. We get it that many scientists are continually and easily co-opted into the political machinations and cultural engineering projects of the elites, most of whom are bankers is some theorists and historians are correct. But creating an artificial divide between scientific endeavors and the other assorted human endeavors is not helpful. What is helpful is recognizing the tendency and how it works. It is good to keep this before us. But it is certainly not an inherent aspect of science. I can tell you that I went into science for the sake of curiosity. I am working now on a consulting project in an attempt to check what seems to be a certain, “if we can do it let’s do it” practice.” I have been a whistleblower and suffered greatly for that and I would do it again. The proper approach is to say, “This is the tendency to frailty or corruption in this class, even if not all members—let’s preemptively encourage such and such in response.” “Certain brands of cattle are more susceptible to this disease, be sure you do this…” “Asians react this way to alcohol, here is the response.” “Military contractors are often likely to lobby to maximize the flow of money from Congress, here is what should happen.” By making these problems unnecessarily and absolutely categorical, you are impeding the cure. The impediment derives from a factually erroneous misdiagnosis. Actually, we are broaching a topic that exemplifies precisely why scientists always need to look for hidden assumptions and deeper causality. Simply because big-R Reductionism, as a fetish, is problematic, it does not me that reductive methodologies, properly matched with holistic approaches, are not extremely valuable tools in the scientist’s tool bag. Let’s spread the word that both are necessary. “Life is tough? Try not taking a pill ( a reductionist approach, and one without even good mechanism as a basis for reduction), but instead listening to what the circumstances are telling you (the holistic approach)–then act accordingly even if it does not ‘feel good’—your brain is usually its own best neuropharmacologist: learn how to use it thusly.” There are so many ways that scientific knowledge can actually be used to enhance the total and proper understanding of things. Then remedies and innovation can be put in human hands as a useful hammer. This is actually the point for inserting the crowbar to get beyond this controversy. And then, as we get good at this joint reduction-holistic approach, we can also add the dimension that derives from a full understanding that better incorporates the Aristo-Thomistic metaphysics of the Four Causes as both you and Monika Hamilton discussed. I am begging you to please consider this approach that combines theory and action as I have laid it out.
David, I do not think we are regressing at all; to the contrary. To my eyes, we are coming fast upon a pivotal question about the nature of science, or more particularly, whether it has any nature at all, or whether it is rather but a kind of pragmatic fluid which we can seep at will into this or that portion of our lives, our thoughts, etc.
To begin with the question of ‘truth’: as I indicated in my response to Jürgen, I am of course fully aware that science today even has a sort of phobia as regards the use of the word; one is unlikely to hear this term at all in scientific circles, save on the lips of certain scientists who by now are ipso facto unconventional to their tribe. This notwithstanding, I simply do not believe that science can do without the idea of truth, no matter how much its practitioners might strive to avoid the word that signifies it. The very claim that science deals purely in statistical or hypothetical ‘facts’ or ‘information’ or ‘paradigms’, for instance, already suggests a prior understanding, a pre-scientific evaluation or view of reality, according to which one can so characterize the relation between things and scientific knowledge. To take but an example: if we assume, with Kuhn, that science works exclusively in ‘paradigms’, still the theory of paradigms itself cannot be considered a mere paradigm, and clearly does not regard itself as a mere paradigm.
I thus believe that a special evaluation or view of reality is endemic to science, because it is innate to it in the historical sense; it pertains to what one might call the ‘scientific worldview’, which is no less real for its having been ossified and buried in our memories, to the point that it is presently presupposed by the better part, not only of scientists, but of men in general. In other words, I hold that science as a human activity can be meaningfully separated from other human activities, its special and fundamental character delineated and comprehended. This can only be done from a view beyond science and beyond the presuppositions of science. But if this is so, then we are obliged to speak ‘categorically’, in the proper sense of the word: we are obliged, that is, to distinguish the category of scientific things from other forms of human thought. This is not necessarily to reject or even to trivialize the category of science; it is, however, to qualify and possibly to limit it.
The first question we might attempt to address then is whether we can speak of science as a delimited and delimitable human pursuit. Before proceeding, let me be sure that I understand your position. You have made several statements which would suggest that you regard all such delimitation to be purely artificial; science, if I understand you, appears to be a kind of innately flexible human approach to the world as such, an approach which bleeds into the multiplicity of human endeavors and cannot be cleanly divided from them. It might have elaborate and sophisticated technical or theoretical manifestations (i.e., nuclear fusion or quantum mechanics) or might have commonplace and workaday ones (i.e. painting a house, or building one, or having the knowledge of how to build one). Science by this understanding is simply an aspect of natural human understanding and human activity, and so there is no break between ancient science and modern science, or no necessary break between them. Thus it would be theoretically possible, for instance, to incorporate Aristotelian causality into modern science. Is this a fair assessment of your view?
John, I fully agree – science has it‘s place among other forms of human knowledge.
I believe your proposition is right now actually being prepared though not on the level of philosophical discourse (may be, too, but I don‘t know), but in medicinal statistics.
Here, a very proper „scientific“, not „sciento-religious“ point of view is being taken when quantifiable experimentation and their evaluation is 1. put into proper context especially their quantifiability and 2. sharply demarcated from qualitative studies which are given their own space. Interfacing the two is the master‘s game.
Probably I have put the finger on the problem. Year ago, I regularly found myself debating progressivists from a primitive-anarchist perspective. My point was that personally, if I could choose, I would choose to live in the primitive times before modernity because the niceties of modernity for me had (have?) no value.
From a traditionalist point of view, this is absolutely consistent.
However, I found in my life practice that I keep trying to improve. I am a scientist, a practitioner, constantly progressing in my practice. Along with that comes more money and „power“ for sure, however from a concrete perspective this does not motivate me. The result of my doings doesn‘t motivate me either, it is the activity itself.
Which is what I tried to convey with Faustian, more in a Spenglerian way than strictly Ghoete – the impulse towards new frontiers for their own sake. I believe the guys from the Manhatten project had the most fun doing their experiments and getting everything ready, the explosion itself then was only an afterglow to the act itself.
John, some years ago I purchased a copy of the Livingstone version of Gray’s Anatomy. A friend, mocking my known habit of reading the final pages of every book that I buy first, jabbed that I probably turned immediately to the last page of Gray’s to see how the story ends. To wit, I quote from the last sentences of the book, on page 1933: “On the dorsum of the foot the skin is thin and loosely connected to the subcutaneous tissues; it contains sparse hairs. On the plantar aspect and especially over the heel, the epidermis is of great thickness. Hairs and subcutaneous glands are absent, as in the palm of the hand.” Well, as breathtaking as that conclusion may be—it is clear that the denouement began with the first line of page one. At least I know that the many authors of Gray’s are not going to sneak something ground shaking in at the end. All of the anxiety melts away. More than likely I can assure myself that I will deal with the most important point by dealing with the last. There are some big-theme stories in anatomy, some that even serve as analogies for the theological. It is just that we could start and end with any number of different chapters, though I am relieved that the authors here astutely followed the professionally-revered “tip-to-toe” model of anatomical organization, more or less. So, here we go. Let me dip my toe in–or rather your toe in–stating with the end of your comment. JBL: “Thus it would be theoretically possible, for instance, to incorporate Aristotelian causality into modern science. Is this a fair assessment of your view?” DS: No. It is absolutely possible to fit scientific method within Aristotelian causality.” (I am telling you John, you are going to feel like a new man by the time we get done. It’s going to be like putting a fresh pair of Dr. Scholl’s foot pads in your shoes.) JBL: “Science by this understanding is simply an aspect of natural human understanding and human activity, and so there is no break between ancient science and modern science, or no necessary break between them.” DS: There is no break. Regarding ancient science and modern science, our means of interacting with the world has changed in some ways, but not all. “Old” science transitions into “new” science primarily because of the instruments we use. We are still poking stones to see if they’ll roll down a hill—we are simply using fancier, shinier sticks. Our hypotheses and models of how interactions with the world work leads to more predictability if our models are incorporating the most useful regularities available at the time. That depends upon people who are good at detecting patterns and evermore fine regularities. But everyone is pretty good at quite a bit of scientific observation. Fundamentally, it is an unimportant question about old and new science, in my opinion. We, like the Athenians, still execute that fundamental scientific probing of the world every morning when we test whether the floor on the side of the bed is still there. (We’re back to feet again.) The older appearance of Man doing scientific interactions with the world looks different, but it transitioned nicely into our new ways of doing science. And transitioning is a very Aristotelian thing to engage in. We on the Right need to learn how to do transitioning better because the Left and the globotyrants sure know how to mop up the floor with our bottoms on this account. We need to get our feet on the ground. To continue, JBL: ” You have made several statements which would suggest that you regard all such delimitation to be purely artificial; science, if I understand you, appears to be a kind of innately flexible human approach to the world as such, an approach which bleeds into the multiplicity of human endeavors…” DS: I have to respond that it is difficult for me to fully understand “innately flexible” and an approach that “bleeds.” Perhaps I can approach the latter by affirmation. But I would I prefer to say that scientific reasoning is an activity that is fully integrated into everything else that I do (we should do), even worship, even making moral decisions, reading poetry, and if someone ever marries me, I might even try it out in lovemaking. (Not looking promising, is it?) Continuing, JBL: “I hold that science as a human activity can be meaningfully separated from other human activities, its special and fundamental character delineated and comprehended.” DS: Okay, but I have know idea why doing this so captivates you. I hope you take this well: you seem like a personality type that desires things in shoeboxes. I find it useful at times to be like that. Maybe this is what you meant by science being “flexible.” When I taught cadaver anatomy, I loved my outline of topics when lecturing. It helped to keep me and the students on track. Moving to the gurneys, we got to see that matter is instantiated in forms that are both similar and different. One works best when one works with both modes: the specific and the general and back again, and so on. This does not mean that Man is unable to speculate and extrapolate with great confidence about ideals and ultimates. (Ding, ding, “5th floor, intimates department;” Ding, ding ding, “Beyond all conceptions of floors, infinites and ultimates department.”) Again, we need to be able to transition in fine Aristotelian form (ahem) from A to A*B to B. It is very evolutionary. Take the trip and end at Telostown. (You’ll need many transfers, actually.) That reminds me. I have imagined that there is a personality type that is attracted to Traditional Catholic chapels. I get sort of the same sense discussing this topic with you. No slight intended. I remain friends with a number of “Trads,”, by the way. Good people (most of the time, some bad apples, like any distribution of things). And to the top, JBL: “…or more particularly, whether [scientific activity] has any nature at all, or whether it is rather but a kind of pragmatic fluid which we can seep at will into this or that portion of our lives, our thoughts, etc.” DS: I would recommend not thinking of science as a thing, like Godzilla, or phlebitis, and rather use terms more appropriate to human practice. I know, we all–including me–gerundify the act of doing scientific thinking and research into a noun (I made that word up, I think, verbifying a noun) . Grammatically handy though this may be—it is rather misleading. By the way, as long as we are going to engage all manner of syntactical grammar porn, do we not talk of things like theology being the “Queen of the Sciences? Do you object to that use of the tern ‘science’, that is science as knowing? Ahah! Can you top this feat? Because I do not think you even have a leg to stand on. (Don’t worry, I won’t always do this sort of annoying punning. I just wanted to do some atrociously corny humor at the same time that I am doing something else, some type of philosophizing. It certainly was not necessary, but maybe it helped in an integral way. If not, then I simply made a heel of myself. )
Even if any of our readers have been irritated by your punning, David, I promise I won’t go kicking you for it.
I will rather follow in your footsteps and begin with a remark of yours near the end of your comment. In point of fact, we only used to talk about theology as the ‘queen of the sciences’; that kind of language, at least in ‘scientific circles,’ would never be for a moment so much as admitted to audience nowadays. This strongly indicates that there has indeed been a transformation of the idea of ‘science’ from the classical view (science, in its highest and most comprehensive form = philosophy) to the contemporary (science versus philosophy). To this extent, I do indeed object to the use of the term ‘science as knowing,’ insofar as it is anachronistic and thus misguiding. It does not adequately describe the phenomenon of which we commonly speak today when we use the word ‘science’; it conceals the fundamental break which was made between ‘natural philosophy’ and philosophy more generally in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as well as the fateful consequences of that break.
You explicitly deny that such a break ever occurred, yet I believe you tacitly grant it when you indicate that Aristotelian causality could not be incorporated into modern science, but that it ‘is absolutely possible to fit scientific method within Aristotelian causality.’ We probably agree on this point, but it presupposes already a neat hierarchy between science and philosophy, and consigns science, precisely, to ‘the lesser sphere’. This is emphatically not a classical view — or rather, it would have made no sense to say anything analogous about classical or pre-modern science.
Now, in some of what you say you seem to wish to reduce science, in the generic sense, to mere ‘trial and error,’ and thus to a practice which was reflected as much in Antiquity as in modernity, as much in the work of the laboratory as of Socrates’ ‘thinkery’ as of the average household. You have indicated that the biggest difference between ancient and modern science is in the tools that they have at their disposal. I think this is an intriguing point of our dispute which it would be well worth our while to bring out. I might start with a question: All early modern philosophers and scientists, to my knowledge without exception, believed they were revolutionizing human thought through the production of, for instance, new methods (Bacon, Machiavelli, Descartes etc.), new mathematics (Cartesian geometry, Leibniz’s and Newton’s calculus etc.), new politics (Machiavelli, Hobbes etc.), and new natural sciences (Galileo, Bacon etc.). Since we are dealing with men who were intimately familiar with the tradition and who knew classical antiquity far better than you or I, it would certainly be strange if they were mistaken in the relation of their work to what had come before, though I am willing to entertain the possibility. But then I would ask you what you make of their strange insistence on the novelty of what they were doing, if in fact there is a basic continuity between modern science and ancient?
You also, and perhaps more radically, broach the question of why we should indulge in attempts to ‘get to the bottom of science’ at all. You seem to view such attempts as idiosyncratic or inconsequential. You urge us to view science, not as a thing, but as a human practice – and this strikes me as being altogether sensible and proper. But specific account can be given for human practices, such that they and their consequences can be fully comprehended. Socrates engages in long dialogues on the nature of human activities as diverse as pastry-making, cobbling and captaining; Plato’s entire oeuvre might be regarded as a single investigation into the activity or practice of philosophizing. Pascal dedicated quantities of writing to the distinction between the ‘geometrical’ mind and the spirit of ‘finesse.’ One could produce an analysis of the human activity of crime, and many such analyses have indeed been offered to specialists and generalized audiences alike. Surely no one would claim that any of these attempts are purposeless or fruitless, or are merely the manifestation of mere personal quirks? Regarding science as a practice rather than as a ‘thing’ does indeed help us to speak meaningfully of science and to comprehend it; it does not, however, divest us of the duty to attempt to do so.
Now, precisely regarding my desire to get to the bottom of ‘what science is,’ you state, ‘I have no idea why doing this so captivates you. I hope you take this well: you seem like a personality type that desires things in shoeboxes.’ I take no offence whatsoever, but I do believe you miss the mark. I am tempted to say that my interest in the matter is self-evidently justified by the size of the stakes involved in matters like genetic engineering, nuclear warfare, environmental degradation and the so-called technological ‘singularity,’ all of which are the direct consequences of nothing other than the ‘scientific practice.’ If this does not suffice, however, I might point to fact that the crisis of modern science was a matter of pressing concern to thinkers as various as Nietzsche, Husserl, Spengler, Heidegger, and Leo Strauss. When thinkers and philosophers of this rank smell something of interest in a given theme, I am quite content to follow them – even when they point to a subject which is comparatively personally uninteresting to me. For my part, David, I would ask you the very contrary of what you ask me: why is it a matter of indifference to you to attempt to understand the precise nature and limits of human practice known as science, the ramifications of which touch literally every aspect of our contemporary lives in ways that men of even a hundred years ago could never have so much as dreamt?
Don’t worry folks, if I did in fact make a heel of myself, you can give me the boot. I just want you to know that I have thick skin.
Alright, this is the end. But lest I be accused of dancing around the bush, let’s be explicit. There are very odd places from where ideas and meaning come from. Scientists are of all types of course. But insights, creativity and meaning emerge from these places in ways that are both predictable and unpredictable. The latter we seem to call inspiration. Hypothesis formation is huge. What to study and measure is critical. Whether a scientist is straight laced or not, in forming hypotheses there is a bit of the divine. At it is a foot in the door.
There is, as many of you probably have already seen, a challenging article by James Corbett: “The Crisis of Science.” https://youtu.be/LfHEuWaPh9Q
I will try another approach to see how well that you and I might integrate our understands, or at least to wind up with reasonably defined, or at least sketched-out starting point, where we recognize our differences and will have to let it rest for the time being. This may give readers and other commenters opportunity to take this where you and/or I may be missing something. In case it is not already obvious, I am not strictly encumbered by what someone in the past said, or how they defined something. My job as a scientist or a thinker of some sort is to, in part, solve problems and to solve problems in ways that best integrate former or various ways of thinking metaphysically or of modeling in the natural sciences. There are certain semantic and terminological disputes
I find important and others that I do not. The solutions might be novel or might result from effectively remember something once known and now partially forgotten. There is a sense in which certain abstract arguments may dissipate into nothingness over miniscule points. (I am not saying that here—at least not yet.) I think that I may have an advantage here in that my scientific practice brings me back to salient questions. And I will grant that sometimes questions may seem trivial at present, but then upon a matter “ripening” they emerge as critical matters. I do not trivialize the matters that you point to as conflict zones that we have with the consequences of Man misusing the results of scientific labors. We all know of the Faustian dangers that can occur. This is a problem first of all due to the failure of humans in exercising the virtues. And yes, there is that payoff of potential predictability in scientific work that lends itself to human avarice for control (power) via the sequestering of matter or information. I hope that in the future you will come to know of my efforts to stand in the gap to thwart some of that in my little part of the world. I am not belittling fighting battles with the lexicon and semantics. But it is not all there is. And I understand and honor your work as an editor. You would naturally have a greater and admirable bent for this realm than would I. We both deal with it, but in different frameworks. Next, I think that you and I deal with transitional phenomena and topics differently. There is both change and stability. A thing may undergo transformation (your word). It may retain aspects of the pre-transformational state. It will have new aspects that define it. regardless, it will have a historical relationship among its parts as well as within the contextual parts and systems within which it underwent its transition (transformation). Just recognize it as such when you see this. I do not see the point of abstract arguments about labels or the understandings that participants had as they participated, even leading the way in transformations or definings. They can be in error. These may be interesting to historians and philosophers of science—but probably not as much to me as to you. Get the point, realize the big issues and move on. That is my recommendation. o, in response to your question: David, I would ask you the very contrary of what you ask me: why is it a matter of indifference to you to attempt to understand the precise nature and limits of human practice known as science, the ramifications of which touch literally every aspect of our contemporary lives in ways that men of even a hundred years ago could never have so much as dreamt?” I would say—it is not a matter of indifference. I believe these are important issues and I believe that I have adequately understand how we arrived here. I also believe that I can contribute to how o be a scientist, that is a natural scientist or philosopher, how to be a theist and a Christian, and how to be an activist and Citizen. Others may have their variations on all of this. I hope to work most effectively with those who vector most closely to my directions—or I theirs. Theory plus practice–if well done–equals phronesis. I think that you and I would actually agree very well in our reaction to the problems we see. We might have corresponding solutions. You and I seem to clash in style of talking about how we talk about things. (Somebody is texting me to come play pool. By my pool playing I have completely destroyed billiards as an obvious analogy for deterministic systems, rightly or wrongly: How pool playing made me a quantum realist.)
I am back from playing pool. And yes, my pool playing was as bad as my hasty proofreading above. There is one more point that I failed to make that perhaps I should have made. The only way to provide the proper boundaries for, and the effective restraint of, the Faustian urge is for Men to be educated to pursue the Proper End in all aspects of life. (Now, that will entail a proper religion, a topic that is best set aside for the time being.) That End is the same end regardless whether one is doing plumbing, raising a family, quilting or nuclear engineering. Pursuing this Proper End as a compass point inherently results in an integration of Aristotle’s Four Causes. Thomism provides for this while still leaving open the possibility for an infinite number of discoveries, innovations and avenues for human flourishing. It goes without saying that all of this can be done poorly and it can be overcome by evil when not sufficiently guarded. What then? Well, an investigation must be made. There is value in paying attention to the cautionary tales from history and noting well the ill uses of science and technology as well as becoming taken by fads that decline away from sound philosophy. There is plenty of knowledge concerning prudent experimentation, engineering and technological decision-making to avoid the ugliest blunders that result from malevolence. We let impatient and greedy authorities rain down immeasurable evil when subordinates and citizens abdicate responsibility and instead commit culpable acts of willful or negligent ignorance as well as acts of malignant obedience. By analogy, and regarding many disputations about problems we face, there are ample lessons to be learned by watching the collapse of a building. The fragments of disintegrating order still possess sufficient subsidiary order by which we can make meaningful assessments., especially when compared to the ordered state. One can even learn things from fine studies of rubble and dusts. But at some point the information about what went wrong becomes exceedingly complex and costly to extract from a system that has been destroyed. There are, thankfully, principle factors of interest that do not necessitate us following an endless regression back in the order of causes. These factors, given that we are moral beings, are factors that involve willed actions of Men and, for those that believe it, God. These stand out prominently when an adequate level of investigation is achieved. Overdetermining these facts may sharpen the picture, but it does not change the identity of the main perpetrators. The real problems resulting in thinks such as Hiroshima, mind-control drugs or chimaeric manipulations of human genes with other species were not, are not and will not first be the manipulations of scientists, qua scientist, but of the ugly ends and will of those who tempt, command and direct all the rest (including scientists) in their more petty ambitions and cowardice. Who has the most deliberate will and who acted with the least duress? These are the outstanding factors and causes that demand correction. Given the limitations of the human intellect for collecting information, perceiving patterns, and for formulating narratives that the human mind can grasp, we need to apply economies of analysis. Regarding the issue we are here discussing, that is, the development of scientific methods and arts—I think we have done adequately well, John, when you and your critics have stated that in fact you disagree and what it is about which you disagree. There is no marginal benefit to trying to extract a further, final, abstract conclusion. There are these tensions with which we must live. For example, do we see categorical changes in the developmental transition of scientific practice and philosophy, or do we describe it as a continuous transition? Is light a particle or a wave? Maybe you will consider this, we might call it a scientists prayer: “Dear Lord, help me to assert the point-like and the categorical where provisionally useful, to employ the wave-like and the notion of the transitional continua otherwise, and to have the wisdom and courage to appreciate that both simultaneously apply. Amen.”