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Post "Scientific Arrogance" Revisited
Created by John Eipper on 08/23/12 6:59 AM

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"Scientific Arrogance" Revisited (Anthony D'Amato, USA, 08/23/12 6:59 am)

Some scattered comments in response to Alain de Benoist's post on scientism (22 August):

The arts (music, fine arts, literature, poetry, theatre) are not the opposite of science, and are not "spiritual." They exist independently of science, and yet (in my opinion) have truth-value. "Beauty is truth; truth beauty," said Keats, but it's more--there's objective beauty in the arts (e.g., symmetry, symmetry-breaking). The attempt to introduce mathematics into the arts directly, e.g., Schoenberg's twelve-tone music, was a disaster, but at the same time there's a kind of regularity of expectation in the best tunes (Mozart, Verdi, Puccini, Jerome Kern) that is warmly satisfying even on first hearing. Gershwin successfully challenged the regularity of rhythm , especially in "Rhapsody in Blue," a kind of compendium of syncopations. And the elemental tunes of Kurt Weill get into the marrow of your bones.

The arts are creative. They introduce things into the universe that were never there before. Science studies things in the universe that are already there. In a manner of speaking, arts are qualitative and science quantitative. I'm certainly grateful that applied science brings to the grocery store foods from around the world, feeding 250 million people in the US every day, quite a feat compared to the way Neanderthals got their food.

Since science studies the universe, it studies evidence. (Law studies evidence, too.) There are some things that only seem to exist because of the evidence of them; Alain mentioned Higgs boson. Some of the most fascinating things in science seem to happen in ways we cannot understand, like action-at-a-distance. Another Alain, Alain Aspect, proved Bell's theorem in 1982: paired protons affect each other more quickly when separated at a distance beyond that which can be traversed by the speed of light. But we can challenge our concept of distance. If the world is multi-dimensional, then the pair of protons might be "next" to each other in one of those dimensions even though they are apart in the third dimension.

When I'm walking, my time is slowing down. I am not aging as quickly as sedentary folks. Although they are experiencing the maximum of time flow, they are trading it for zero distance. Nothing contradictory about this.

Action at a distance is sometimes called "spooky action at a distance." But it's definitely not spiritual. I would suggest that "spiritual," "religious," "God," are subjects characterized by a lack of evidence. Alain, following Poincare, calls it "facts," not "evidence," though I prefer the latter. That there is no "fact" of God may suggest that we just haven't looked hard enough into the universe; someday his huge face may appear through a powerful telescope. By "evidence" I mean that there can be no evidence of God. Why? Because the term "God" is a contradiction. (If God made the universe, who made God?)

Regarding the quote of Poincare that Alain brings up: "the laws of physics are not imposed on us by nature, but imposed by us on nature." It's certainly true, but strange coming from Poincare, who anticipated much of Einstein's theory of relativity two years earlier in his book Science and Hypothesis. Just thinking about travel, distance, and heat, he arrived at the same conclusion as Einstein who thought about travel, distance, and light. Poincare didn't exactly impose this law on nature, but he didn't derive it from nature either.

Finally, there may not be a "rational nature" (Alain quoting Laplace), but there is definitely such a thing as rationality. For Frege it was the foundation of communication. If WAISers write irrationally (heaven forfend) they are simply not communicating. Wittgenstein saw this, which is why he stopped attending the meetings of the Vienna Circle. (W. however challenged whether the communication was real, or just a very useful language game.)  I think that rationality is primitive, that avoidance of contradiction is our best sign of rationality, and, so far at least, there is nothing self-contradictory about evidence.

JE comments:  Legal minds like Anthony D'Amato's abhor contradiction above all, yet science at its most advanced/abstract embraces it.  I think.  Forgive me if I'm out of my league in this discussion.

One nitpick I do know:  the relationship music-mathematics did not originate with Schoenberg; it has existed since the beginning.  Look at the Renaissance university, where both arithmetic and music were part of the "quadrivium."  The two disciplines were seen as closely related.

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  • "Scientific Arrogance" Revisited (Tor Guimaraes, USA 08/23/12 2:44 PM)
    I agree with most if not all the comments by Istvan Simon (23 August) regarding science and the scientific method, but wish to comment on some statements by Alain de Benoist (22 August). Regarding "it is obvious that the arrogance of some scientists ... 'who have greater egos than the validity of their scientific discoveries,' must be distinguished from the possible arrogance of science itself": Science is not arrogant, but one may have an arrogant definition/understanding of science. I believe in the "universal applicability of the scientific method to everything," but I disagree with "science has (and is the only means to have) the answer to all meaningful questions ... science is the only possible way of knowledge, scientific discoveries being identified as the only possible truths (and scientific propositions as the only meaningful propositions)."

    As stated by Anthony D'Amato (23 August), "the arts (music, fine arts, literature, poetry, theatre) are not the opposite of science, and are not 'spiritual.' They exist independently of science, and ... have truth-value." I agree; philosophical, ethical, etc., propositions can be extremely significant to humans; and some can be verified using the scientific method, while most must be taken on faith.

    Alain also wrote "it would be quite foolish to reject what has been (provisionally) established by science. Nobody can go against science." That is not true. The results from science are continuously being challenged by better theories, better measurement, better philosophy, ethics, and empirical evidence. It is possible to go "beyond or beside" science. Science is merely the application of the scientific method to discover/validate universal truths. The results from the process are always tentative truths: the best truth available at the time. In the social sciences, for example, ethics may force further theory testing and perhaps changes to the theory. What seemed like good science can suddenly be questioned and then be "proven" wrong. Thus, one can surmise in this case that ethics was ahead of science and led to a better theory toward the truth. On the other hand, if the researcher for whatever reason cannot test the ethical challenge to the existing theory, one may think the conflicting views are beside each other.

    I find this statement to be meaningless: "Feyerabend questions the claim of scientists to present science as a unified worldview (a 'monolith'), which it is not. Science is both incomplete and quite strongly disunified. The associated ideology sometimes known as objectivism, which takes science to be our ultimate measure of what exists, is therefore ungrounded."

    Science can be viewed as a collection of knowledge acquired through the testing of specific hypotheses. These hypotheses are obviously tested separately but can be more "unified" later as knowledge on the subject matter grows.

    The statement, "For Feyerabend, when it comes to methodology, the empiricist idea that science starts from facts, and eschews theories until the facts are gathered, is a myth. The same can be said of the idea that science is completely value-free. The Platonic-rationalist picture of science as a kind of pure thinking about the nature of reality appears here to be a distortion" strikes me as imaginary straw men created only to be knocked down. I don't think I know any human-related activity which is totally value-free. And, science starts with hypotheses (not facts) justified by logic or prior propositions to be tested. After the propositions/hypotheses were properly tested by different researchers and were corroborated, they are considered to be theory or parts of a theory. To test a hypothesis, the researcher proposes a relationship between two constructs which must be observable and measurable (both). Only then data/fact collection starts to test the hypothesis.

    The statements, "For Poincaré, ...two strictly identical phenomena do not exist. ... and a collection of facts is not necessarily science," are rather obvious. On the other hand, I disagree "that a mathematician's model or theory does not say the 'truth of the world.'" I think it does represent at least a temporary truth until it is proven incomplete or wrong. Also, "the famous Higgs boson" is still a hypothesis being tested. If the data collected indicates the presence of such construct (as measured by the researchers), then it becomes a thing (as hypothesized) that exists in nature. A "rational nature" does exist, but we can only hope that we found a specific piece of it which was represented in the successfully tested hypothesis. If not, any new hypothesis, logic, or empirical evidence questioning our hope/belief in the standing hypothesis/theory/law, must be proposed and tested. The process is continuous; it only stops for an undetermined amount of time until our possibly/likely temporary truth becomes the apparently wrong belief and the search for the truth must continue.

    Anthony D'Amato (23 August) also made some statements I wish to comment on. Regarding "The arts are creative. They introduce things into the universe that were never there before. Science studies things in the universe that are already there. In a manner of speaking, arts are qualitative and science quantitative," I disagree. Science can be very creative also; without science there is little technology. By saying, "I'm certainly grateful that applied science brings to the grocery store foods from around the world, feeding 250 million people in the US every day..." Anthony provided one example confirming that.

    Last, Anthony facetiously (I assume) wrote "that there is no 'fact' of God may suggest that we just haven't looked hard enough into the universe; someday his huge face may appear through a powerful telescope. By 'evidence' I mean that there can be no evidence of God. Why? Because the term 'God' is a contradiction (If God made the universe, who made God?)." I disagree strongly. It all depends in one's definition of God. As I have posted in depth before, to me God is the Universe; it obviously exists, and I will not be deprived because my mind is presently too feeble to explain the riddle implicit in "the Universe/God made itself." God is Truth, and we are here to discover it hypothesis by hypothesis through the scientific method with the assistance of philosophy, ethics, etc.

    JE comments: Anthony D'Amato is very careful at crafting his prose, so I resisted the urge to "correct" his claim (23 August) that modern science feeds 250 million Americans each day. We now number over 300 million. Is Anthony suggesting, as I believe he is, that some 50 million Americans are not properly fed?

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