Monday, November 19, 2018

Useless Science, Harmful Scientists

As mentioned the other day, I had a single book with me during my exile, Schuon's Logic and Transcendence -- which I'd already read a number of times, but you can't get too much Primordial Truth, especially when all around you the idols of this fleeting world are in flames. You want something solid, as it were. Imperishable. Fireproof.

At the same time, a certain aphorism has been rattling around my head. It sounds extreme, perhaps even preposterous on its face. Could it be true? Or if it is true, in what sense?

Why deceive ourselves? Science has not answered a single important question. --Dávila

Now, if the average person said such a thing, we'd just ignore it. But when someone as brilliant, ironic, and profound as Dávila says it, then we are bound to pay attention. What is he talking about?

Well, amazon is always recommending books to me, for example, this one: Consciousness and the Brain: Deciphering How the Brain Codes Our Thoughts. And just look at all the others linked to that page, such as Understanding the Brain: From Cells to Behavior to Cognition, Consciousness Explained, or Understanding Our Unseen Reality: Solving Quantum Riddles, etc.

Do any of these books deliver on what they promise? How much explaining, understanding, and solving is really going on here? I skimmed the sample of Consciousness and the Brain, and it just seemed to confirm Davila's claim: the book may answer some questions, but not any important ones such as, oh, the meaning and purpose of life. In fact, if the book is correct, then it kills a lot of questions, such as, oh, whether life has meaning and purpose. It does not and cannot.

From the final chapter: some problems of consciousness "border on the philosophical" -- no, really? -- "and yet I firmly believe that they will ultimately receive an empirical answer..." As if empiricism isn't a philosophy! And what about "I firmly believe"? If his beliefs are "true," then there is no basis for either the beliefs or the I who holds them.

So much crude and naive philosophizing, one scarcely knows where to begin. "Surely something particular about the human mind allows it to turn the flashlight of consciousness onto itself and think about its own thinking." Well, yeah. But who said anything about a flashlight? What a dim metaphor.

He then -- an empiricist -- tries to discredit infanticide through an appeal to "the moral intuitions that all human beings... have equal rights to a good life," right after quoting a couple of eminent human beings who precisely reject that moral intuition. Thus, he is trying to save himself from the consequences of his own empiricism -- trying vainly to out-logic himself.

How can science -- which studies only what is -- say anything about the ought? If he's going to make moral pronouncements, he's got to say how this squares with his empiricism. But that would require transcending it and rethinking his whole life's work, and that's not going to happen.

Indeed, he even claims that "Any scientific knowledge will be better than the a priori proclamations of philosophical and religious leaders" -- even though that is quite obviously an a priori proclamation! And any scientific knowledge? How absurd.

This exquisite biological machinery is clicking right now inside your brain. As you close this book to ponder your own existence, ignited assemblies of neurons literally make up your mind.

Machinery? Clicking? Inside? Ignited? Literally? What a thoughtlessly sloppy use of language. I am so done with this guy. But I'm also done with science as any kind of remotely adequate explanation of life and consciousness. It is in this sense that we can indeed appreciate that science hasn't answered a single important question.

Now, a few aphorisms that expand on what Dávila means; notice how completely unscientific and non-empirical they are. It's not that they are "anti" anything, but rather, refer to a transcendent reality that is at a right angle to the realm studied by science:

Stupidity appropriates with diabolical skill what science invents.

The vulgar epistemology of the natural sciences is a burlesque idealism in which the brain plays the role of “I.”

The soul is fed from what is mysterious in things.

Time soon erodes what is said about the soul but it never even scratches what the soul says.

There is an illiteracy of the soul that no diploma cures.

Those who reject all metaphysics secretly harbor the coarsest.

A fool is he who thinks that what he knows is without mystery.

Literally! Each and every one of them.

One last aphorism: If good and evil, ugliness and beauty, are not the substance of things, science is reduced to a brief statement: what is, is.

The Ought (and any other transcendental such as love, truth, or beauty) is not contained by, or reducible to, the Is, so please stop pretending otherwise. Rather, the Is is and must be in the Ought -- as the relative is in the Absolute, appearance in Reality, and the many in the One.

We'll get to Logic & Transcendence later, probably Wednesday. This will have to do for today:

The rationalism of a frog living at the bottom of a well is to deny the existence of mountains: perhaps this is "logic," but it has nothing to do with reality.


julie said...

Do any of these books deliver on what they promise? How much explaining, understanding, and solving is really going on here?

There was a headline up at Drudge this weekend about how some experiment in lab-grown organs from stem cells was finding unexpected tissues - brain and muscle - in what should have just been a liver or something. Scientists baffled, of course, but seems like they really shouldn't be that surprised. When you take cells that can literally become any type of tissue, inevitably some will end up as something other than what was intended by their manipulators. And yet how horrific! I think these were mice tissues, but just imagine inadvertently creating human consciousness in what is essentially a blob of quivering meat! Even as we try to create positive solutions to serious problems, the laws of unintended terrible consequences still hold sway.

julie said...

Stupidity appropriates with diabolical skill what science invents.

The example of third-worlders using cell phones to spread rumors about witchcraft and how to cure aids by eating albino children comes to mind.

Anonymous said...

Good Day, Dr. Godwin. I enjoyed the post. I see you don't think science has much to offer philosophy, despite efforts by some to make it the be-all and end-all.

All science springs from physics, and all physics springs from O.

O put all of the constants in place, i.e, particles, spin, properties, time-space, entropy, gravity, and other such. It could be said, the Cosmos is a kind of Holy scripture writ in physics.

Science reads this scripture, and gives a translation. There is plenty of "ought" in physics. Particles ought to behave as intended, etc. It is one gigantic "ought." This is how predictions are possible. are referring to a whole different animal, the "oughts" of the mind plane, not the physical plane. The twain are not the same thing. Therefore, you are of course correct, but it verges on being too obvious to even spend time teasing out.