Science and the defacement of Reason

Kali and Shiva, the destroyer/transformer.
Source: Wikipedia.
Right, this one is going to be controversial. Even as I write these opening words, I still harbor some doubt about whether I should be doing this at all. I'll postpone thinking further about it until the point when there's nothing left to do but to click on the 'publish' button. If you are reading this now, you know that, eventually, I did click on it.

You see, the problem is that I am about to commit sacrilege. I am about to attack my alma mater in the original latin sense of the words. I am about to attack science; or, at least, science as most people know it in our society. I come from the womb of science. Yet, doing what I am about to do is, I guess, the price of brutal honesty. This article has been inspired by private discussions I've had with Alex Tsakiris and Niclas Thörn. I gratefully acknowledge their input. Having said this, I am solely responsible for the opinions I am about to express.

In an earlier article I wrote for New Dawn Magazine, which is now freely available online, I elaborated upon what true science should be and how it differs from how science is presented to the public today. In that article, my concern was to protect an idealized, archetypal view of science from the defacement it is suffering at the hands of those responsible for promoting it. Since I wrote that article, however, I've come to realize that my archetypal view of science is more a personal ideal than an objective reality. More than a kind of Platonic Form, science is what scientists do in practice. As such, the reality of the situation may be the opposite of what I painted in that earlier article: actual science may be the culprit, not the victim. To separate my archetypal, idealized view of science from the reality of science today, I will refer to the latter as science-as-you-know-it.

Archetypal science is ontologically neutral: it is merely a method for unveiling the empirically-observed patterns and regularities of reality, without philosophical interpretations. But science-as-you-know-it implicitly adopts the materialist ontology. Perhaps not all scientists do this; perhaps even only a minority does. But this minority is vocal and influential. They clearly control where the research funding goes, for projects that do not assume the materialist metaphysics collectively get much less funding than projects that do. If you ask me to substantiate this assertion with data, you will be simply revealing your naiveté about what's going on: it's like asking for proof that the Earth is round. Moreover, this vocal minority also controls how science-as-you-know-it is presented in the media, in school curricula, and to the culture at large. Just think of people like Lawrence Krauss, Richard Dawkins, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Stephen Hawking, and others such specialized prodigies of rhetoric and intellectual puzzles, who cavalierly ignore rigorous logic, epistemology, and ontology. As much as it pains me to admit this, the fact is that science-as-you-know-it has become synonym with the materialist metaphysics. Even if, as assumed, only a minority of scientists are responsible for this association, the institutions of science seem to be in no hurry to correct the situation. As such, they and all their members are guilty, at least by omission, of allowing it.

As argued in my latest book Why Materialism Is Baloney, as well as in recent essays and videos in this blog, materialism is a fantasy. It's based on unnecessary assumptions, circular reasoning, and selective consideration of evidence and data. Materialism is by no stretch of the imagination a scientific conclusion, but merely a metaphysical opinion that helps some people interpret scientific conclusions. It's not the purpose of this essay to elaborate on this; the references I just provided make my case. The point here is this: the emperors with no clothes that promote the materialist belief on TV, books, and what not, are seen as spokespeople of science-as-you-know-it. When these people promote their flawed logic in the media as an expression of Reason, the irony is distasteful. As such, science-as-you-know-it, with all the funding and respect it has accumulated as enabler of technology, has become the chief promotor of a philosophical worldview that is not only false, but corrosive, demeaning to the human condition, and a threat to a sane and healthy future for your children. As much as its continuing positive contributions to civilization cannot be ignored or dismissed, science-as-you-know-it has also made itself part of a great threat. Allow me to elaborate.

The implicit materialist belief that is now intrinsically associated with science-as-you-know-it limits the horizons of scientific research. Many interesting and promising phenomena do not get studied because, according to materialism, they are a priori decreed to be impossible. Interesting data, which could point the way to entirely unexpected and promising avenues of research, get discarded because, according to materialism, they cannot be valid. By adopting materialism, science-as-you-know-it has surrendered its neutrality and openness; it is now biased. How many healing methods, amazing technologies, and ways of improving our lives will not be discovered because of this? How many new horizons that could bring great meaning, excitement, and unimagined possibilities to the human condition won't be opened? Instead of a force for impartial exploration, science-as-you-know-it is turning into a strait jacket for the human spirit. Instead of working on truly new discoveries, science-as-you-know-it is now busy with fantasies that make for great entertainment but not much more, as cogently argued in a recent Huffington Post essay.

Worst yet, science-as-you-know-it now claims to have rendered philosophy redundant, a philosophical statement recently made by, among many others, Lawrence Krauss. The insanity and danger of this position have been cogently argued by Prof. Austin Hughes. By projecting all reality onto abstract matter, and then by proceeding to deny the value of philosophical inquiry, science-as-you-know-it is sucking the meaning out of the human condition.

Yet, science-as-you-know-it is not the sole culprit of this tragic and dangerous state of affairs. We all are. It is our society and culture that project wisdom onto people who are just smart in their very-highly-specialized-and-narrow fields. To ask Stephen Hawking – someone who had the nerve to state that, 'because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing,' apparently ignoring the quaint fact that the law of gravity is not nothing – about the underlying nature of reality (i.e. ontology) is like asking a chess player about quantum physics. The chess player is pretty smart, alright, but those smarts don't apply to all and everything. Smart scientists can be, and often are, surprisingly foolish when it comes to epistemology, ontology, psychology, art, poetry, and all those things that matter much more to actual human life than mathematical puzzles. Yet we, as the people, still can't resist the temptation to project general wisdom onto them. This projection is what has invested them with the power to speak nonsense and not be either ridiculed or ignored.

But if we have been enablers of this situation, we can also counter the situation by withdrawing our projections. Let's look upon the militant spokespeople of science-as-you-know-it for what they truly are: confused human beings like you and me, potentially beset by hubris, narrow-mindedness, prejudices, agendas, circular reasoning, projections, hidden insecurities, neuroses, unconsciousness, and the entire gamut of human limitations. In doing so, we may lose some of the anchors that ground our lives: we may feel lost in the jungle, without guides. But those anchors were illusory to begin with. We need wisdom, not narrow intellectual prowess. We need guides, not puzzle-solvers. We need people who are conscious of, and in touch with, their humanity, in all its horror and beauty, not unconscious nerds living in denial.

It started with us, but it can change with us.

At the same time, we have to be extraordinarily careful. To simply get rid of science would be a catastrophe for the human condition, setting us back hundreds of years. A quick look at the fringes of the culture shows the dark tides of delusion, hysteria, nonsense, fundamentalism, and sheer madness waiting at the sidelines. But the real risk of catastrophe cannot justify accepting the prospect of slow but sure death that scientific materialism now presents us with. Finding the right balance here is crucial and not at all easy. Our culture will be faced with this critical crossroads not too long from now. The human spirit cannot tolerate the starvation of meaning and the limited horizons that science-as-you-know-it is forcing upon us. The collective human unconscious will rebel. Our challenge will be to channel those erupting energies in a way that balances their destructive and constructive aspects. Shiva and Brahma are both needed; in this order. Vishnu must stand on the sidelines for a while.

Copyright © 2014 by Bernardo Kastrup. All rights are reserved.

Comments

  1. I fully agree with all that you write here - but if you might forgive me to get a bit personal, you sound angrier and more - how shall I say, agitated than in previous writings.


    Now please, I'm not going new-agey on you and saying you shouldn't be angry and even agitated - I still find myself walking on some incredibly beautiful nature hike and suddenly "awake" to find my mind embroiled in a passionate heated argument with some (idiotic, irrational, impossibly smug) rationalist/materialist. So I'm not actually getting quite that personal - my comments below are not about how you "feel" but about simply the practical value of modulating one's tone when speaking (at least potentially) to materialists.

    And I've messed up royally many times, though a few kind people have suggested that I have a lot of patience when talking to materialists.

    Basically, I've been particularly impressed with a number of your online responses to incredibly thick-headed, impossibly arrogant materialists - you've responded respectfully, kindly, calmly and with much equanimity.

    I'm again, not saying you're wrong to show your anger here - just a mindful warning - if this is a trend (it sort of seems like it might be) you might want to nip it in the bud. Or at least reflect on it a bit.

    or maybe I'm totally wrong (it has been known to happen at times in the past:>)))

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    1. Hi Don,
      Thanks for the heads-up. You may be right. I've also noticed this internal trend already a couple of weeks ago, before it became more manifest in my writings. There is a possibility that I am simply allowing myself to 'experiment' with this upsurge and see where it takes me. There is also a possibility that what I just said is my own way of deceiving myself by rationalizing a complex that has gotten a grip of me. I don't know for sure. I will try to observe it more carefully and remain as conscious as possible.
      There is a sense in which the culture immediately rewards a more polarized, radicalized approach. People like to see 'intellectual blood.' It's a trade-off between remaining authentic to who I really am (which I always consciously will) and riding a wave of opportunity if it comes. After all, I also want to be read. I feel a lesser need to modulate my tone when I am talking to, or about, militant materialists. When I am talking to people who are simply interested in the truth and do not have a rhetoric agenda, it's different.
      I don't know how these things will unfold... but I am curious what will come out of this article. My previous essay, which was also combative (though not as much as this one) resonated exceptionally well, if I am to judge it based on the number of hits it got within hours.
      Anyway, thanks for the warning. I appreciate it. Please feel free to do it again whenever you sense it's useful.
      Cheers, B.

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  2. Bravo! I could not agree more. I really like your distinction between science in its idealized form and science as currently practiced. If we could turn the former onto the subject matter of all those footprints of spirit in the physical world, who knows what new horizons might open up? Who knows how our civilization itself might be transformed?

    I'm not convinced, though, that we will reach the critical crossroads you speak of very soon. We face a very thorny predicament, in which one of the most powerful and foundational institutions in our civilization is caught in a powerful pattern of global group-think. Such a thing is very difficult to get out of. So I really have no idea when we will reach that critical crossroads. I hope it's soon, but I'm just not confident of that.

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    1. Hi Robert. I recognize what you say, particularly regarding the patterns of group-thinking, which are now well-entrenched in science. I do sense, though, that we're coming to a head both culturally, economically, and environmentally. I see seeds of change spread around everywhere, small but persistent. The Internet is also a formidable catalyst. It may be a question of change-or-die soon. The collective human 'unconscious' is an unmatched natural force when it erupts. And I sometimes believe to sense the tremors that precede the eruption. But then again, for all I know, you may be right regarding the timing...

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  3. I don't think you are very angry, Bernardo. In fact, I wonder if you're angry enough. The scientific establishment (note: not so much individual scientists) is completely FUBAR. I suppose we all have our favourite examples of areas where it's gone wrong, but we may not agree on those. For me, the three most egregious examples are medicine, so-called climate science, and neo-Darwinism (I am am ardent evolutionist, but neo-D just doesn't work). I could also mention psi research, cosmology and LENR.

    Kuhn's "ordinary" science has become enshrined as the desired ideal. I don't think it's a massive conspiracy so much as a massive delusion, and there are too few with the courage to poke their heads above the parapet. But you know what? I think that the silent majority would agree with you and wish things could change.

    My experience is that there are actually not a few materialists who are just as chagrined at the state of the scientific establishment as we non-materialists. They might not agree with me which fields are worthy of study (many CAGW sceptics for example, of which I am one, don't generally agree that neo-D is open to question, and think that psi research is pure woo). But they are up in arms about the way the system is gamed to keep out contrarian views, however good the empirical evidence for them might be. They might have little interest in philosophy or metaphysics, but in their own way, they care about the truth as they see it, and greatly value the scientific method.

    There's much polarisation and demonisation, and so many people willing to wield the borrowed authority of science (now that they can't wield that of conventional religion). Many of them wouldn't know CO2 from a hole in the wall and yet it is those who are often most disdainful about "deniers" and "anti-science". I guess my 6 years at university studying science aren't as good as regurgitating barely understood scientific buzzwords.

    Also, of course, politics plays into it all to produce a lethal cocktail that threatens to halt the advances made since the Enlightenment. The stupidity and arrogance of it all is quite staggering and I am very, very angry about it. But on the plus side, it's not just a case of materialists vs. non-materialists. I think it's beginning to dawn that something has gone seriously wrong with the scientific establishment, and that, as usual, to find the main drivers, follow the money. It doesn't pay to have contrarian ideas, and academia is geared to spew out quantity rather than quality. Once prestigious journals like Scientific American and Nature, not to mention once august scientific societies, have sold their souls to the devil. I think it's mainly in engineering, where things have to work, that the scientific method is alive and well. In many other areas, people are busy epicycling like mad, keeping alive at all costs the most absurd hypotheses.

    It can't go on, you know. At some point, it's going to get blown sky high and we're all going to realise what a crock it is. The question is, how much damage there will be before that point is reached. I could quote examples that have already led to the death of millions, and misery for many more. God save us all from those who know they are right: the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

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    1. Michael, David Bailey had problems trying to post the below to you:

      ----------
      Michael,

      Let me amplify a few of your comments! There are a number of scientific scandals bubbling under the surface that breathtaking in their scope. The medical scandals are the easiest to understand because the ultimate evidence is based on trials of various sorts on human beings. If more people die on one diet rather than another, or on one drug rather than another that is easy to understand, but medical science tends to disregard the evidence if it does not like it. Here you can find discussions about the various studies (not in dispute) that show that saturated fat and/or high salt is safe!

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QetsIU-3k7Y

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sAGrUwE8zpY

      http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Great-Cholesterol-Malcolm-Kendrick/dp/1844546101

      http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/its-time-to-end-the-war-on-salt/

      All these articles are by medical doctors except the perhaps the last. The facts they discuss don't seem to be in dispute, but the shrill advice about low fat/salt diets never seems to change!

      Other areas of science include CAGW, where a small increase in global temperature was recorded in the 1980s/1990s which was linearly extrapolated for a century or more to prove it was dangerous! After 1998, there has been NO global warming, but climate scientists continue to put out shrill messages of doom at regular intervals. This area is impossibly politicised.

      Another probable scientific scandal, is that Halton Arp, a former student of Hubble, has collected a large amount of evidence that cosmological red shifts are not always
      a measure of the distance of the objects. Here he is presenting some of the evidence.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eyREfCOr-Y0

      The astronomical community simply responded by impeding his use of the various telescopes. If Halton Arp is right, it will mean that the cosmos has been fundamentally misinterpreted, and that the universe may not be anything as big as it is assumed to be, and there may have been no big bang.

      Finally, here are a set of videos by an MIT professor about why cold fusion (otherwise known as LENR) is almost certainly real. Each lecture is preceded by a warning that interest in this area can damage your sceintific career!

      http://coldfusionnow.org/interviews/

      None of those issues (and there are others!) impact directly on materialism as such, but perhaps it does explain why the scientific establishment condoned Wiseman's absurd 'refutation' of Rupert Sheldrake's dog experiments.

      http://www.sheldrake.org/reactions/richard-wiseman-s-claim-to-have-debunked-the-psychic-pet-phenomenon?highlight=WyJ3aXNlbWFuIiwid2lzZW1hbidzIl0=

      It is hard to believe that at least one of these issues will not explode before long, and maybe - just maybe - newspapers will smell blood and start a domino expose of the shoddy state of science today.

      Best Wishes,

      David

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    2. Hi Michael,

      >>the three most egregious examples are medicine<<

      I concur and have taken action, as you saw in my latest essay... ;-)

      >>I don't think it's a massive conspiracy so much as a massive delusion<<

      I agree completely!

      >>I think it's beginning to dawn that something has gone seriously wrong with the scientific establishment<<

      Only fairly recently I began to become truly (i.e. self-reflectively) cognizant of this. Call me naive and you'd be right, I guess. I grew up within science, so it took me very long to accept it.

      >>academia is geared to spew out quantity rather than quality<<

      Completely true, based on my experience.

      >> think it's mainly in engineering, where things have to work, that the scientific method is alive and well.<<

      Yes, we are a pragmatic bunch. :-)

      >>the road to hell is paved with good intentions.<<

      You bet...

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    3. Bernardo,

      I think you were fearing a quite different response when you wrote this blog entry - I hope you have been pleasantly surprised!

      I should probably have also included a link (above) to Peter Woit's blog:

      http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress/

      He is arguing against the string theorists who want to continue inventing and publicising ever more speculative theories when there has been no evidence for string theory at the LHC so far (it is being upgraded to a higher energy, so that could conceivably change).

      It may be that in 10 years time, the universe will be recognised as being quite different from the current view. Those red shifts may be a ticking time bomb.

      There are also physicists, such as the late Nobel Prize winner, Hannes Alfvén, who think much of the action in the universe is due to electrical forces. Given the fact that electrical forces are hugely stronger than gravitational forces, that does not seem unreasonable.

      It is, of course, always hard to separate alternative science on the internet from junk science, but I think whenever a very senior scientist is involved, it is a very good sign.

      "Only fairly recently I began to become truly (i.e. self-reflectively) cognizant of this. Call me naive and you'd be right, I guess. I grew up within science, so it took me very long to accept it."

      I too grew up within science, and one big push for me, was the discovery that WikiLeaks were holding the emails leaked from scientists at the Climate Research Unit. I mean WikiLeaks is about exposing the worst wrong doings on the planet - so why did they want those emails? Well, I found out, and so did Michael!




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    4. David, yes, I was fearing a different response, and yes, I am positively surprised. :) And you are the second person in only a few days to point me to this 'electrical universe' idea... maybe I should look into it. Cheers, B.

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  4. What a great post! 'The defacement of reason' - that about sums it up.

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    1. This may be relevant.

      http://www.integralscience.org/sacredscience/SS_science.html

      It is another valuable essay by Thomas J. Macfarlane, ‘Science; Physical and Spiritual’, in which he reconciles science and religion by equating dogmatic (exoteric) religion with dogmatic (scientistic) science, and sacred science (esoteric or experimental religion) with physical (empirical) science.

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    2. Thanks Peter! The link sounds intriguing...

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  5. Bernardo, have you ever listened to Richard Lewontin? If not, you might consider doing so. Yes, he is a materialist, he says. But as a noted evolutionary biologist he has interesting things to say about science, and while many of us have our own opinions sbout what science is for and where it comes from, his opinions, based on long years in his discipline, give us a view from the inside, so to speak. If you search Richard Lewontin in YouTube, you'll get What is Evolutionary Theory near the top of the list, a lecture delivered years ago at the Santa Fe Institute. He delights in deflating assumptions and egos. I'm not even sure if he's still alive, but that lecture is a good place to start.

    And he's funnier than most popular science types. A rounded education will do that...

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    1. Even better, a later lecture in that same series, entitled Does Culture Evolve.

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    2. Thanks disposium! I will have a look at Richard's material. I tend to like people who deflate egos... ;-)

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  6. Great post, Bernardo. You share the same philosophical position as Rupert Shaldrake (The Science Delusion).

    When you say that science as practised is leading us to a "slow but sure death", I presume you mean spiritually. But it is also doing so literally - climate change, nuclear waste proliferation and species extinction are surely a result of the materialist, anthropocentric outlook.

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    1. Yeah, I meant more than just 'spiritually'... thanks for the encouragement!

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  7. I hear frustration more than anger. That's good if it motivates you to keep going and not slow down which is what the materialists want. You know its always been like this from the times of Bruno and beyond. The good news is you have reality (idealism) on your side. The others (materialists) have fantasy to stand on. So, be of good cheer when you can. Go
    fishing, go swimming, go biking, whatever brings you happiness. Stay rejuvenated for the endless battle of ideas. Reality isn't going anywhere. Be a joyful warrior.

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    1. Thanks! I took your advice to heart this weekend... no, really, I did.

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  8. Simm here. Kali is my favorite... B, you might like late Philip Rawson's book named 'Tantra', in which an ancient esoteric version of your Idealism is presented. There's an interesting rocket metaphor of space-time: we are all just looking at exhaust fumes of a rocket and regard the fumes as reality. Lots of mandalas and subtle bodies also.

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    1. Hhhmm... sounds interesting, will have a look. Thanks Simm!
      PS: there are several books by Rawson with 'Tantra' in the tittle. Do you mean 'Tantra: The Indian Cult of Ecstasy'?

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  9. That Tantric metaphor is wonderful. It reminds me of a passage from Krishna Prem (I've started a thread on the forum about Krishna Prem, if you're interested in learning more - he has written some of the most compelling critiques of materialism I've ever come across):

    (this is from his 1920s essay, Violence and War): It is in the inner worlds of desire that wars originate, and from those inner worlds that they are maintained. What we see as wars upon this physical plane are but the shadows of those inner struggles, a ghastly phantom show, bodying forth events that have already taken place in the inner world, dead ash marking the destructive path of the forest fire, the troubled and unalterable wake of a ship whose prow is cleaving the waters far ahead. In war or peace we live in a world of shadows cast by events that we deem "future," because, unseen by us as they really happen, we only know them when we come across their wake upon this plane."

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  10. If one wants to know what science is then listen to what science says. Science says it is a system of doubt and a methodology for asking questions and finding answers. And of course it is.

    But if you listen not just to what science says about itself, but what science says about other methodologies, beliefs, practices etc., you find that what science really is, has more to do with what it rejects for that establishes the boundaries of its belief system.

    And science rejects that which cannot be made to fit its materialistic and mechanistic paradigm. It gives a gentler nudge to so-called 'soft sciences' for it knows it cannot reject these areas of research and practice completely, but it has no qualms about not just pushing aside anything and everything else, but of kicking it in the process. And I refer to that which is generally called by science, paranormal, esoteric...or in the colloquial 'woo.'

    When this is raised with a scientist, scientific acolyte or devoted follower of science and/or scientism, the response is always: 'Of course I am open to anything, that is what science is about, now prove it to me.'

    What they mean of course is, and here comes the qualifier which they don't articulate so much as demonstrate: 'now prove it to me within the materialistic and mechanistic paradigm of the scientific method.'

    In other words, I am prepared to be open to anything as long as you can ensure it fits neatly into my belief system. Hardly open-minded, hardly rigorous and actually, in the pure sense, hardly scientific.

    But science is a system and systems drive behaviour and once a system has been established and found to be profitable, whether financially or in terms of prestige, career, or peer approval, then the behaviour driving the system becomes more accountable.

    This is what happened to religion. This is what is happening to science.

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    1. Beautifully put... I particularly like this: "you find that what science really is, has more to do with what it rejects for that establishes the boundaries of its belief system" Bingo!

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