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John Bruce Leonard

Science: The Lesser Sphere – Part 2

Series: Science: The Lesser Sphere

In its incapacity to come to terms with the living, and especially human, world, science reveals its natural limitations – and forces us to reflection on its proper place in society.

Science and Teleology

It is clear from all that has been said in the first part of this essay that science is and must be premised on an utter rejection of teleology, or what Aristotle called the ‘final cause’. The reasons for this rejection are by now evident: the final cause, exceeding the bounds of temporal causality, would determine effects in an atemporal, non-linear, and (from the perspective of empiricism and the experimental method) fundamentally unpredictable way. The very idea of an ‘end’ must be requalified by science in terms of ‘cause and effect’ – whether or not this entails violence against the concept of the end.

Thus, to take but a simple example, the hungry man is not moved by the apple to reach out and grasp it (which is to say, he is not moved by his aiming at a given end, the satisfaction of his hunger in the consumption of the fruit, by which he barters his present moment on a future goal, and which is the reality present to his very consciousness), but rather he is pressed ‘from behind’ as it were, by causes which are secret and obscure to him: the chemical make-up of his body, the silent work of his glands, the evolutionarily determined structure of his organism. Science therefore cannot help but understand the living being as a complicated automaton, whose mechanism works in strict analogy to that of the simplest robot, though in a thousandfold greater complexity and subtlety, and which is granted for mysterious reasons a thing called ‘consciousness’, which might even be an utterly superfluous epiphenomenon, useless to his ‘survival’ or his ‘evolution.’ This to say nothing of the fact that science simply denies, from the start and once again without the least real evidence, the existence of a teleology inherent to ‘matter’ or to the universe itself.

The utter inability of science to arrive at even remotely adequate self-knowledge, is alone sufficient demonstration that science is not capable of being an ecumenical or universal study.

We ignore this latter problem, which pertains to the special domain of classical metaphysics or theology, preferring instead to remain with the more evident difficulties that science will inevitably encounter in its attempt to view the living as a species of machine, or at the very least as a kind of complex intersection of so many lines of temporal causality. We can state our objection as follows: to understand the teleological in the light of the linear-temporal is to fail to understand the teleological at all.

This goes a long way toward explaining the evident difficulties and complications which science stumbles across the moment it attempts to lay its suddenly quite clumsy hands on the living world, and especially the human world: all at once, science, that monster of precision and care, becomes something like a man attempting to capture a field mouse with a caliper. The living world, the human world, are inseparably bound up with ends and aims, with goals and strivings, with desire – with final causes. To attempt to reduce these to temporal causes alone is thus to eliminate that in them which is precisely living, human, or, at the highest level, perhaps divine. In this way, one understands them merely partially and incompletely; one misunderstands them.

The charge of ‘reductionism’ which is often levelled against science is in large part comprehensible in these terms. To reduce the human being, with all his loves and hates, all his hopes and purposes, to the inanimate world which does not know (or does not know in the same way) that entire realm, is to strip the human being of his humanity. It is to conceive of the human being as something other than the human being, and then to attempt to explain him in that feeble light. Everything which is lowest in the human being is thus presented as being fundamental to the human being; everything which is highest is finally explained away as an illusion, an ‘epiphenomenon’ or a subjective misinterpretation of these fundaments; and those human beings which best fit into the schema presented by science are taken as representative of the entire race of man.

More yet, and yet more problematic for science as a universal study of the cosmos: Science would be ‘value neutral’, and this value-neutrality is touted as a fundamental element of its impartiality and its quality as a falsifiable, and ‘therefore’ verifiable body of research. But the human world, as indeed the animal world or the living world more generally, is imbued with value and cannot be severed from it; sooner will one suck all the blood from a man’s body, than all the value from his life. Science therefore cannot ignore human values, but must understand them without reference to human values; it posits (and here, again, without ever demonstrating or even knowing how to demonstrate such an idea) a distinction between ‘facts’ and ‘values’, and works on one half of this remarkable dichotomy without ever having defined these queer terms. The most that one can say is that ‘facts’ are those elements of the universe which are susceptible of scientific method, while ‘values’ are not. But this is almost even to admit the natural limitations of science; if one is truly to bolster and defend the palisades of scientific thought, one must go a step further: facts are real, values figmentary and fantastical. The human being thus lives in a world of nigh total illusion, and science, to pierce to the solid bedrock underlying that illusion, must utterly ignore the illusion, at least in the terms that it is understood by the human being. It must describe these human things with reference to the material world that underpins them, using words and descriptors that the human being would never use in his own discourses or self-understanding. Love is not love; it is the ‘interaction’ of one or more ‘chemicals’ in the ‘brain’ or ‘physiology’ of the ‘organism’, brought together by the essentially ‘mechanical combinations’ in a ‘process’ whose ‘unintended consequence’ is ‘reproduction’, ‘DNA replication’ through the ‘laws’ of ‘Darwinistic evolution’. Justice (supposing the scientist ever even sees it necessary to discuss so high a concept) is not justice; it is but the ‘outcome’ of any number of ‘social mechanisms’, various ‘arrangements’ of ‘social capital’, thus ‘positively or negatively influencing’ ‘welfare enhancing activity’ and ‘group cohesion’, all of which is probably just the ‘by-product’ of ‘instincts’ ‘wired’ into the ‘brains’ of various ‘actors’, which have proved to be ‘instrumental’ in the ‘spontaneous development’ of ‘social networks’. And so forth and so on.

The human being as understood by science, reconstructed from out of the evidence to which science has exclusive recourse, is unrecognizable to himself, is unrecognizable as a human being. This in itself does not disprove the scientific understanding of man, for it may be that that understanding is superior to the grossly inadequate ‘common sense’ or commonsense understanding of man; but such can only be supposed or upheld insofar as one is ready to accept science as a suitable arbiter for the knowledge of human things. And as we have seen, there is, at the very least, sound reason to cast that particular role of science into doubt.

The clearest indication of the justice of this doubt: science, which would understand the world in a strictly non-teleological way, is itself inherently teleological. Science, which proposes absolute neutrality as a staple of its method and means, is and cannot help but be itself value-directed. Science seeks knowledge, however that word might be understood; that knowledge is its necessary aim and goal, its telos; and intellectual honesty and epistemological clarity are absolutely valued by every true scientist as the necessary prerequisites toward the attainment of this end.

An older generation would have spoken here of the love of truth; science would shun this description in both its terms, but by now we have had good enough reason to suspect science’s competent hegemony over our terminology. There is no way around it, science values and aims, and understands itself as valuing and aiming; yet any scientific explanation of the world would implicitly deny both the value and the aim of science, and would reduce science to factors which, in the everyday practice and the overall development of science, are never so much as alluded to by the scientists themselves. Science would understand itself in the same indirect and materialistic way that it understands the human being, which is to say – the theoretical understanding that science would derive of itself through its own method would in no way be identical to how it understands itself in and through its practice. This means that science in its conclusions cannot comprehend itself as it understands itself in its work; and this basic contradiction, this utter inability of science to arrive at even remotely adequate self-knowledge, is alone sufficient demonstration that science is not capable of being an ecumenical or universal study.

One might suppose, of course, that science is still, despite its failings, the best or only valid study of the universe or cosmos: yet the very fact that we are able to arrive at these conclusions via a non-scientific route – indeed, that we can only come to these conclusions via a non-scientific route, while the exclusive use of the scientific route evidently dooms us to wander through a kind of labyrinth from which no higher perspective can be reached, blinded at each turn by the unscalable walls closing us in – at the very least suggests that the old argument between science and philosophy has far from come to a close, and if anything has merely been ignored, artificially and unfairly, by men whose ears have been deafened by the awesome roar of the atom bomb.

The Scientific Study of Man

We touch finally on a point which would be served by much greater and more detailed investigation: the natural limitations of the scientific study of the human being, from a strictly scientific point of view.

The scientist as scientist must judge the exception in the light of the rule, the extraordinary in the light of the ordinary, the superior in the light of the average, and thus proves himself a poor sage and a worse legislator.

Science, if it is to apply its experimental method to human things, must have recourse to one of two sources of information: ‘data’ or ‘meta-data’ (primarily of a statistical nature) gathered on human interactions and societies on the one hand, and laboratory experimentation on specific human beings or groups or samples of specific human beings on the other. The first course is fraught with any number of difficulties, as: how does one acquire ‘data’ on things like human happiness, human thriving, human values? One must necessarily sooner or later refer to the ‘subjective’ utterances of large numbers of human beings, whereby one runs into any number of difficulties, as: the limits of a human being’s self-knowledge; the possibility that a human being might lie; the erratic or inconsistent use of one and the same term between one human being and another, or even between one and the same human being at different moments of his life; similar inconsistencies in the meanings of superficially similar terms between a variety of languages;1 the evident disparity between these utterances and laboratory measurements on similar questions; etc.

The use of language is especially problematic, since a great majority if not all of the terms involved in these scientific studies, surveys, etc. are inherently entangled with questions of value, which, to say it yet again, science actively refuses to consider. Science therefore cannot accept these terms with their ‘dictionary definitions’, which are meaningless to science: science must, in preparation of all its research, and before the empirical moment itself, define these words in terms accessible to its method. But this involves a fundamental violation of the terms in question, a distortion and indeed perversion of human language, which inevitably colours the results of the studies that are performed, in ways that are unpredictable to the subjects of the same, since they are not supplied these definitions and indeed are not expected to know anything about them. Science must act in this manner and not in another on account of its need to control variables within its research; it cannot establish correct experimental method without being able to establish the terms in question as set variables. This small but absolutely decisive fact makes science incapable of approaching the human world philosophically; it is intrinsically incapable of asking Socratic questions (‘What is justice?’, ‘What is courage?’, ‘What is man?’ etc.), and indeed turns the philosophical model, founded on Socratic ignorance, on its very head: while the philosopher presupposes his limited knowledge of human things and sets out from that limited knowledge to understand the broad world of human things as they are, science presupposes a broad artificial knowledge of human things and sets out to understand, through that utterly refractive lens, a set of highly delimited questions.

The methods employed by the scientists themselves for navigating these difficulties, which we cannot dwell on particularly here, are ever and always at best but half-measures, and retain always the feel of scientistic artificiality. The root difficulty in all this can be traced back to what we have already stated in the foregoing reflections: science would understand human ‘values’ in terms of human ‘facts’, and for the rigid limitations it imposes on itself cannot so much as make that distinction perfectly clarion to itself.

As for the laboratory study of specific human beings specifically, it is in some ways much more promising from the scientific point of view, insofar as it does not depend, or does not depend to such an extent, on the ‘subjective’ proclamations of any given person, but can take real-time measurements from such things as brain activity, pulse rate, pupil dilation, and other purely physiological cues. Insofar as the soul of the human being is identical to or reducible to or necessarily connected to his physiology, these results must be regarded as, if not conclusive, then at the very least highly suggestive.

The discerning reader will already have seen indications in that simple statement of any number of philosophical difficulties; we set those aside. We will also set aside the special problem indicated by science itself, in the occasional lack of consistency between the subjective experience of a human being (what they claim they are experiencing internally) and the ‘objective’ measurement of that experience (the mathematical figures which science is able to derive through its studies). We even lay aside the question, which is by no means trivial, of how science has any idea of what a ‘human being’ is at all, since the identification of such a creature must precede its study, and so must be the presupposition rather than the product of scientific enquiry.2

Quite apart from all this, there is another problem in this scheme, this one much greater from the practical point of view, which haunts the scientific endeavour from the start. Science, to study individual human beings in a laboratory setting, must first find individual human beings to study, and in large enough numbers that it can reduce sampling errors to a minimum. Given the presuppositions of our present liberal societies, it cannot force anyone to participate in these studies; it must rely then on volunteers. And even if it were to exist under extraordinary social conditions which would permit it to force human beings to subject themselves to its studies, insuperable difficulties would arise from their very unwillingness. This reduces science’s potential pool of human subjects, generally speaking, to very specific strata of human societies. In general, the members of the contemporary bourgeois world who are well disposed toward science and in general toward the ‘collection of data’ and the production of ‘scientific studies’. The ignorant and the poor can be enticed with financial rewards, and in some cases it is possible as well to derive samples from Third World countries through a variety of means. Even given these possibilities, however, it must be clear that scientific studies are limited to a very small segment of contemporary humanity; they can access any number of specific human groups existing today only with great difficulty, and cannot access at all the human beings of other times, be they past or future. Any knowledge derived via this route, therefore, is necessarily radically limited, and must be taken at the very best as partial knowledge of a partial sample of a partial temporal cross-section of humanity as such – which is not precisely a resounding commendation of its results.

To our purposes, it suffices to note a limited but decisive point: the noblest human beings, and certainly the most spiritually advanced, are highly unlikely ever to volunteer themselves for scientific prodding in laboratory conditions; science then is almost utterly denied any sufficiently numerous contact in its ‘laboratory studies’ with the best of men. More, it is congenitally unable to differentiate between the best of men and the worst, so that even were it granted access to such, any discrepancies in their individual results would be drown out in those of the masses; which means that science can come to not even the most superficial and partial determination about the highest of human beings, of human things.

In a healthy and high society, science would be subjected to the moral and political control of men who are not, or are not merely, scientists.

The very idea of ‘sampling errors’, which science arranges its entire statistical method toward dispersing, indeed contains beneath its modest guise a number of insurmountable difficulties, the foremost of which can be articulated as follows: Science, in its value-neutrality, cannot judge of good or bad, high or low; science must then take the average as the normal, despite the fact that in any given society or human age it is entirely possible that the low and common is in fact an example of a corrupt and perverse human nature, while the rare and high is the completion, the consummation of human nature. Science is constrained to develop its comprehension of man on the broad run of man, be that broad run a mass, a herd, a people or a mob, without regard to its quality, its distinct historical characteristics, and above all its moral failings and inadequacies. The scientist as scientist must judge the exception in the light of the rule, the extraordinary in the light of the ordinary, the superior in the light of the average, and thus proves himself a poor sage and a worse legislator.

And in an age like ours, an age which is characterized essentially by decadence and the general debasement and ignobling of man, science left to its own devices becomes a kind of echo of the jungle it seeks to comprehend, howling back into the already numbed ears of man, assuring him of his low nature, his base origins, his lack of destiny and his utterly indifferent quality within the cosmos.

The Rank of Science

It must be clear by now that we men of the Right, we who propose indeed a Deep Right, cannot permit ourselves to bow uncritically before the present reign of science, but must look upon it from a wholly suprascientific perspective, a critical and sceptical clarity which far transcends the mere boundaries of science itself, and which seeks with all its power to be liberated from the trappings and the tendencies of scientism, which are so ubiquitous and so effective in our day.

The most important point which follows us throughout all such critique is the following: science would understand man in terms of the inorganic rather than the organic, the inhuman rather than the superhuman, the material rather than the spiritual, and consequently must understand man (an intermediary being, as the Ancients said, standing between beast and god) exclusively in terms of what is lowest in him. Science thus represents, not the comprehension of the human, but his belittling and distortion. It is able to understand the human being to the extent that the human being is not a human being; it takes this partial low piece of humanity for the comprehensive and essential element of the same. Worse still, it is limited in this understanding exclusively to the inhuman or the subhuman, the superhuman being yet more inaccessible to it than the human itself. To habituate oneself to understand one’s own soul or the nature of societies or the quality of mankind as such in the standards and antiseptic pale glow of scientific research, is to habituate oneself to understand man as non-man; it is to understand man, that eternally and richly ambiguous creature, endowed with awareness and spirit and soul, as a mere beast or a complex of chemicals or a hyper-complex node of molecules.

To look to science, with hope and expectation, as to the arbiter of these things is thus to bring the de-humanization of man; it is to encourage man to become fit for science, rather than the other way around, which means – it is to transform man, slowly but surely, into an automaton, a dead thing, by which transformation alone can he become perfectly susceptible to the Procrustean bed of scientific research, by becoming mere matter, soulless and inanimate.3

This process must be resisted with all our powers, not least of all because it is the general trend of modernity itself. To that extent, we must not merely be critical of science, but even adversarial toward it. For though our contemporary science might be regarded in a saner time as an eminently useful and convenient tool at the disposal of human development and material well-being – when placed exclusively, that is to say, at the discretion of such morally competent, wise and responsible human beings as are today most manifestly lacking to our societies – in a day such as ours, science takes on a frightful and essentially dangerous role as the engine by which a mechanical and despiritualized modernity most effectively grinds itself down to the very dust.

Science is rightly understood as a method for coming to partial understanding, and increased power of manipulation, of a specific aspect or sphere of reality. This sphere is not the greater sphere of reality, but rather the lesser, and indeed in some respects the lowest. Science in the hands of a cultured and spiritually cultivated humanity might represent indeed a true achievement, capable of improving human life in those special respects for which it is fit, and where such improvement does not bring corresponding degradation; in the hands of our heedless, feckless, uncultured, and essentially blind modernity, it represents at best a mortal threat, and at worst an active element of spiritual corruption and corrosion and potential annihilation of an already much suffering and much reduced humanity.

The inescapable implication is that science, in a healthy and high society, would be subjected to the moral and political control of men who are not, or are not merely, scientists; while technocracy is in many ways the natural conclusion of modernity, an anti-technocratic aristocracy is the only solution to the problem it poses. This is sure to be regarded as unacceptable to any scientifically minded man, as it without any doubt would compromise the growth and working of science, which requires, for its fullest development, full liberty, untrammelled openness, and a free economy. But the compromise of the workings of science can be regarded as deplorable only insofar as science itself is the highest thing, or is of greater dignity than that which would lash it down and place boundaries upon its research or the development of its technology. Science can only claim such a rank by ignoring its own commitment to value-neutrality, and disregarding the natural limits imposed by its method; science must become unscientific if it is to defend its present unfettered role in society.

In so doing, the defender of science must perforce transcend that lesser sphere wherein he commonly dwells; no matter the outcome of his defence, in his very act of committing it, he contradicts his very premise, and demonstrates the justice of our claim, along with all its unsettling implications: philosophy, and not science, is the true and natural king over the many realms of human knowledge.

Footnotes

1In some cases, indeed, words exist in one language which do not exist in another, leading to an entire series of problems which are not easily addressed (and which are but seldom even noted). This is particularly the case in any comparison of the modern languages of the West and the East as compared to the many primitive tongues of the South, but similar problems can easily be identified by anyone who has sufficient knowledge of two comparatively related languages, as for instance one Germanic and one Romance tongue.

2This problem, incidentally, holds in all aspects of scientific investigation, and not only in this; quite apart from science’s tendency to prematurely define its terms in scientistic hue, which we have already discussed, science builds necessarily on the foundation of ‘common sense’, according to which one simply knows what is a human being, what is life as against non-life, what is language, what is a hand, what is a house or a wife or a shoe, etc. etc.; but all of this is the product of a pre-scientific understanding, which originates within that very realm of human cognition which science proposes to analyse and discipline. Here too, science, which would be master, demonstrates itself upon investigation as but some poor haughty servant at play in the house of the master, who believes he understands that house with greater clarity than his displaced lord, even as he misuses its implements, dons the clothing of the mistress and sleeps in the bed of the dog, quite willy-nilly.

3For a deeper investigation into this particular aspect of modern thought – its tendency toward death itself – see Monika Hamilton, ‘Philosophia Mortis’.

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