domingo, 9 de junho de 2013

Rant against the sciences - Part II.

                                                                One gasps to hear scientists swooning over        the universe or any part thereof like schoolgirls overheated by their first crush. (Albert Einstein, Karl Popper, Carl Sagan, Richard Dawkins, many others.) From the studies of Krafft-Ebbing onward, we know that it is possible to become excited about anything - from shins to shoes. But it would be nice if just one of these gushing eggheads would step back and, as a concession to objectivity, speak the truth: THERE IS NOTHING INATELY IMPRESSIVE ABOUT THE UNIVERSE OR ANYTHING IN IT.   
                                                                                            THOMAS LIGOTTI 
Before I start, I want to reiterate (not to people that read me constantly - but for eventual newcomers) that I do not, in any way, want to bash specifically on any person and their choices, and their efforts, regarding the disciplines they study and deal with. 

Nor in any way, are my rants against knowledge itself of these disciplines, which are helpful for humanity, as we are already living. 

I´m not in any way, saying that the sciences, or math, or anything else I critique, are useless, but only pointing the pitfalls that those disciplines might effect in regarding our understanding of them. 

If you are using the sciences, or studying them - in the way they are understood now, that´s fine. If you don´t, that´s also fine as well. This is not what this is about. 

Furthermore, we should be able to critique whatever, since we are pessimists. I studied law, but I  have thousands upon thousands of critiques to this field, in its practical and more abstract ways. One should never let the light blind oneself too much, what frequently happens when one gets too close to the lamp. 


I have two main problems against the way we perceive sciences. The first is reducionism, and the second is scientism. This is not a critique on science in itself - or knowledge. I understand knowledge can make a difference in a person´s life. It can even help one shed the old prejudices apart. Lovecraft himself said that: 
The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age. 
That´s what I believe as well. But at the same time, there is so much confusion and arrogance, and all this 'all too human' attitudes, that is hard to not let oneself be disappointed, even when one tries to conform to the norm, so to speak. Arrogance of those that are considered 'the scientists'. The belief that 'science' - as is commonly understood, and therefore scientists - are the only valuable knowledge of the human race is arrogant, to say the least, if we consider science the small, restrict group of natural sciences, even worse. For instance, in order to function more or less orderly, our societies need laws, not natural, but man made. And those are hardly scientific in their genesis, if one considers science to be what it refers to nowadays. 

We do fetishize scientists and science in our society. Our culture fetishizes scientists, and it always have. I believe it was around the late 80´s, or 90´s, the every movie or cartoon aimed towards a younger audience had to had the wiz kid, or scientist hero guy. Every damn movie. Why? Not because science was becoming popular by its force alone, but because it was being made that way. And why is that? Science, like math, helps us deal with the world better, to dominate it, and thusly governments, corporations - and society at large, if a large society they be, and they are - need it as well. 

Sciences, like Bertrand Russel said, brings good things to others, to society. That´s one reason society upholds and fetishizes scientists: it depends on them to make life, you know, better. More comfortable. Sure scientific knowledge, when taken on its own is intriguing, and sometimes awesome and fun, but to negate the role it play in society as a institution is being blind to society´s games. 

I could talk about this at lenght, but since it speaks for itself, I´ll only say that I was quite surprised when I found a post about a fight between scientists and engineers. Here I was thinking that scientists respected engineers and vice-versa, as both being math grounded disciplines - another thing that society upholds - but who would´ve known, they even discuss amongst them who can be worshiped the best. All too human traits alright. 


Reducionism is the idea that everything can be reducible to the sciences, most notably physics, and then eventually mathematics - that it is all there is to human knowledge. I reckon that it is relatively absurd.

Relatively, because it´s clear that we have various kinds and categories of human knowledge that were divided because there´s no way one person could master all of it. So, nowadays, we have that people need to study this field, say, computer science, and others have to study human languages or arts, because both those fields are so huge nowadays that would be near to impossible for someone to work and excel at both those fields. It´s not even feasible to one to work, say creating laws and regulations at day - one necessary step of living in society - and creating huge amounts of art, in the form of music and movies, and also delve into mechanics and eletronics and so on and so forth. It´s humanly impossibility. 

So what happens? We divide them, but when we divide them, someone comes and say that some are better than others, that some contain more truth than the other, because... because humanity, right?

No, no one is better than the other, all are necessary to society, if a society need there be. So this "all hard sciences matter, others not so much" approach is bullshit. If one matters, all matter, since we all need various approaches in order to understand life better.

Absolutely, it also is not so, because, in order to learn, we need meaning, and understanding, and those faculties are not born out of purely scientific models and paradigms. The old adage 'science don´t explain why, but only how' applies here.

This ties up with my criticism of scientism, as well, which is the idea that only scientific knowledge is valuable - science as understadable by current standards. This is ludacris, for science gives us pretty little in regards to understanding. A computer can store all science in the world, but it lacks understanding. Science, as in, the gathering of data, can only takes us so far.

Watching one video someday, the person presenting it said it best:
I can´t explain pretty much what eletric charges fundamentally are, because I don´t... very few people understand it, fundamentally. No one understands anything fundamentally, anyways.
The way he put it was refreshing. Yeah, we don´t understand fundamentally things all around us. Gravity, one of the things we deal with damn everyday, still baffles scientists. However that´s not how things are advertised at. Scientists are regarded almost as quasi-magical entities with deep knowledge of the world around us. Don´t get me wrong - science can explain a lot, but it´s only when we distance ourselves from it that we know how much is still left untouched and unresolved at least from a primary point of view. Bottom line, we know much, but at the same time, very little, yet, about (pardon me here) life, the universe and everything. It´s alright, we have limitations.

In the end, it´s about people being people, as we all know. 

Science is the latim word for knowlegde. It´s knowledge. So, by this standard, someone who knows the right of way of, say, cleaning a bathroom, is making science out of it. Or, in the case of normally fields that scientists don´t give credence as being "scientific", like sociology or law. It all matters, if it has to matter.

Other than that, science should encompass all human knowledge. If it´s knowledge, it´s science. This way of diminishing the scope of science to a handful of disciplines is useless in my opinion.


This is also more or less the same as above, but it´s more of a faith in science as the ultimate value giver and knowledge giver. While I wish that was so, science is ultimately flawed - if we consider a strict definition of science as given today by normal paradigm - because things like infinite, and values, and conscience, escape and ellude scientific method. Science can never know if the universe is infinite, because there´s no way we could observe infinite things - so therefore science is unable to say this, if by the way of its very method. Infinity, for instance, can´t be calculated, because it is, well... infinite. So, therefore, by following science we can never know, just 'assume' - let´s say assume here for the sake of the argument - when some things pass of a certain point.

Science also has a lot to answer in the ethical side. I know that those are not the faults of a non-existent entity, but nevertheless, no amount of irrational animals combined could ever be responsible for the amount of suffering ever brought by our brains and their inventions. Animal testing, nuclear bombs, you name it. One of the most renown applications of modern science is military. Need anything more be said?


This all can be summed up as about seeing that science, that has replaced the previous role of religion in society at large, is not the 'know all, end-all' endeavour it is proclaimed to be. Therefore, by antinatalism standards, it is not enough, to provide us with sufficient comfort. Therefore, by pessimist´s standards, it can´t be 'followed' blindly, believing it will deliver us from our conditions as human beings - existential beings. It´s not that is not useful - it is. The problem is usefulness don´t fundamentally resolve anything, 'existentially' - let me use this word, knowing full well that it won´t fully convey my point, but still - for us. 

It is good to understand that we are bombarded with lots of things that try to fulfill the void in our lives, and those takes various guises. Science can be used as such, as art, as philosophy itself. Nothing should be guarded from critique. That´s the point of this website. Not insult to anyone or anything. 

Cheers to you all who have read this far. 
                                                                                Illusion begets and sustains the world; we do not destroy one without destroying the other.                                         Which is what I do every day. An apparently ineffectual operation, since I must begin all over again the next day. 
                                                                                                 EMIL CIORAN. 
Good links about the subject (others will be added as found):
-Comments from a physicist;

10 comentários:

  1. Excellent post, Shadow. There's also the fact that if any conclusions can be drawn from science, they're surely pessimistic ones, yet all the morons do is get excited about multiverses etc etc. So much of the time, science is just another outlet for ego-projection and species narcissism.

    1. Exactly!
      Can always count on your support on the comments, brother.

      Great post on your site by the way. Will comment there as well (haven´t had much time these last couple of days).

    2. Shadow, this is a rather mild post; very soft on scientists. =)

      While you probably want to deal with engineering separately, ... when I think of science and engineering, what I actually see is how the umpteen gadgets so many of us use have changed our lives. And NOT changed our lives -- in that millions and millions still go hungry, and don't even have safe drinking water.

    3. I went kinda soft, but I also don´t want to be misunderstood. I have no problem with the study of science, but as how it became an institution of its own.

      About what you said, that´s sad. Indeed there are people that don´t have safe drinking water. Horrible fate. One that we are not spared of by being on this earth.

  2. Science seems to have usurped religions power over our minds but co-opted its authoritarian tendencies,'don't question just believe,we're the ones with the answers,you can't possably question us'. No, why not? Why does a guy with a white coat get a pass when we don't give the one with a white collar one? Science has told us we are the over developed monkey inhabitants of an obscure planet,where's the grounds for optimism?

    1. Indeed, where are the reasons to be optimistic about it all?

      Thanks for the comment David!

  3. This reminds me of my frustration with quantum physics. I did an online video course hoping for an answer to the question "why," but all I got was equations and the reassurance that math is really, really beautiful. DAMN YOU I WANT TO KNOW WHY!!!

    1. Richard Feynman, one of the worlds famous physicists, said that "I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.
      Richard Feynman, in The Character of Physical Law (1965)".

      So you are not alone.

      But this actually comes with another question - why can´t it be reasonably explained without all the equations? After all, wasn´t Einstein that said:

      "It should be possible to explain the laws of physics to a barmaid."


      "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough."

      The number of physicists, physics major, students, etc, who can´t explain or begin to explain what QM is all about without bursting all the equations leaves me suspiciously thinking if they actually understand what it is all about indeed.

      Thanks for commenting Ann!

    2. One of the most famous episodes in Primo Levi's account of Auschqitz is when a guard brutally stops him from feeding on an icicle hanging from a railway car. Levi asks why. The guard replies 'Hier ist kein warum.' 'Here there is no why'. A motto for the entire universe!

  4. I have a real problem with people looking to science as a "saviour." The idea that scientific advances are going to save us from catastrophe. In this world there will always be disasters, until the end of time, which science can neither predict nor stop. I grew up in the eighties and nineties and was constantly hearing from teachers about the wonders of science and technology and how glorious our future utopia on earth was going to be. Well we are here now in that "future", and it sure as hell isn't glorious. It is the same earth as it's been for thousands of years, with iphones. Science, when used rightly, can improve lives. But it does not save. For instance, all the scientific and medical knowledge out there has not been able to help with my deformity. There is not a cure or treatment for this genetic error. We must let go of our arrogance about science and the arrogance of thinking we have any real idea or any real control over what the future holds.


Please, make sure your comment fits with the overall theme of the post. Don´t be rude or offensive towards others without reason - though everyone is free to be vocal, overly offensive comments may be altered/deleted.