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Thread: critiques of science

  1. #16
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    Much of what I could have said here has already been explained very niced indeed by Edward, but I'll have a crack at a few answers myself - sorry if I repeat what anyone has said already, this is mainly a reply to zhao's first post, not to the subsequent replies:

    Quote Originally Posted by zhao View Post
    What is the intellectual foundation of science? What is the basis of the claim of scientists to have access to a higher form of knowledge? Often scientists simply assert the claim, without bothering to probe the philosophically murky foundation on which all knowledge ultimately rests.
    It is nonetheless the case that there IS an intellectual foundation to science. If most scientists don't bother to enquire too closely into this foundation in the course of their everyday work, it's because they're scientists, not philosophers. To put it another way, if mathematicians tried to construct the entire edifice of the basis of mathematics every time they wanted to prove a theorem, they'd never actually any useful maths done.
    Quote Originally Posted by zhao View Post
    In 1979, Jean-François Lyotard... concluded that science's claim to possess a higher kind of knowledge was seriously flawed.
    Define "higher". Science is not about God, or love, or the soul, or the meaning of Life. These are the realms of philosophers, theologians, mystics and poets. Science is about trying to rationally understand and explain the phenomena of the physical universe, nothing more, nothing less. This could mean trying to reconstruct the conditions that existed a fraction of a second after the Big Bang or it could mean sequencing the DNA of bread mould.
    Quote Originally Posted by zhao View Post
    For Lyotard, scientists have no more direct access to the truth than philosophers or historians, or anybody else for that matter.
    I would disagree with this completely. Science works within the doctrine of the scientific method, which is unique in its objectivity and reproducability. If two groups of scientists perform the same experiment and conclude different results, then either one group has done something wrong, or they both have.
    Quote Originally Posted by zhao View Post
    Each discipline is like a game. It has a special terminology which only makes sense within its own boundaries. In practice, a theorist or researcher is not faced with infinite possibilities to explore, and can only play within the limits of a system of permissible moves.
    I would agree with this as far as it goes, although the word 'game' is unfortunately anthropocentric...
    Quote Originally Posted by zhao View Post
    The scope of permissible moves is determined by the power structure of the particular branch of science in which the scientist is working, which is just as political and unscientific as any other human activity.
    I'm not sure what is meant by 'power structure' here. Sure, there are entrenched norms and establishments in science, and research that goes against that can face stiff opposition, but this is a *good* thing: the established ideas are usually there because they've been succesfull in describing reality. If a new theory wants to strut its stuff, it had better be pretty good.
    Quote Originally Posted by zhao View Post
    Lyotard argues that some time around the 18th century, science developed the view of itself as the source of enlightenment.
    Erm, I would say 'tool' rather than 'source', but anyway:
    Quote Originally Posted by zhao View Post
    It suggested that being scientific or rational was the sign of credibility. Possessing scientific knowledge implied that you could get behind mystification and superstition, reveal the facts about world and lead all of humanity to a brighter day.
    Yup, this sounds about right. There's a big difference between the kinds of 'truth' offered by science and religion, though - the former depends on explaining empirical facts using a rational basis, the latter depends on blind faith, dogma and the threat of damnation for the unbeliever. For the ten thousandth time, science is not a kind of religion or superstition.
    Quote Originally Posted by zhao View Post
    - science is progressive, moving towards a state of complete knowledge;
    No, there is no such thing as 'complete' knowledge, only improved knowledge.
    Quote Originally Posted by zhao View Post
    - science is unified, with many different areas, but all sharing the same goal;
    Not really: some sciences are largely practical, bent on technological innovation for the benefit of mankind - others are much more geared towards searching for truth for its own sake (even if they implicitly admit that The Truth will never be attained).
    Quote Originally Posted by zhao View Post
    - science is universal, working for the good of all of us,
    Scientists work for all sorts of people - some of those funding science don't have the 'good of all of us' at heart. C'est la vie.
    Quote Originally Posted by zhao View Post
    - science aims at total truth that will benefit all of human life.
    [/QUOTE] See above on who benfits from science, and the fallacy of 'total truth'.
    Quote Originally Posted by zhao View Post
    - groups who perceived themselves as disadvantaged by the existing political and institutional arrangements (women, developing countries, the poor) have argued that the science's claims to benefit the entire human race have often turned out, on closer inspection, to be linked in practice to promoting the interests of privileged minorities.
    I really don't see this one. What about the contraceptive pill, and the billions of women's lives this has improved? Arguably, it was responsible for the great political and social revolution(s) of the 60s more than any other single factor. What about drugs than are helping save lives in the developing world? What about improved nutrition, medicine, renewable energy sources?
    Quote Originally Posted by zhao View Post
    - the outcome of scence - technology - was supposed to save time and reduce stress, but few people today feel as though they are enjoying the fruits of that promise. Technology often seems to make life more complicated, more hectic, more stressful, with time feeling every day more scarce, and everyone's nerves more frazzled.
    Again, this has much more to do with technology than science itself. OK, so I was arguing in favour of technology in the last paragraph - so sue me.
    Quote Originally Posted by zhao View Post
    - the unscientific politics of science has come under the scrutiny of writers like Thomas Kuhn, in his depicting of the social processes of science and the phenomenon of paradigm shifts;
    complexity theory and quantum mechanics have highlighted the fundamental uncertainty in understanding the world;
    This can in no way be construed as a criticism of science. These kinds of uncertainties are scientifically described and fully quantifiable: they're completly different from the uncertainty that plagued the world when people thought disease was caused by demons and wrote 'Here be Dragons' on the blank bits of a world atlas.
    Quote Originally Posted by zhao View Post
    - private sector funding of science has given rise to suspicions that theories and discoveries are based on contributions to performance and efficiency and contributions to the bottom line as much as on truth or purpose.
    All the more reason for governments to fund science reseach with public money!
    Quote Originally Posted by zhao View Post
    - public sector institutions are sometimes perceived as pursuing their own agendas, driven by the internal interests of the institutions themselves, independently of the genuine public purpose.
    Again, this is to do with the economics and politics of science, not science per se.
    Quote Originally Posted by zhao View Post
    - even scientists have largely abandoned the goal of penetrating truth or finding the answer, in favor of the pursuit and promotion of the perspective of their own particular sub-topic.
    - scientists themselves are sometimes perceived as interested in putting out work which will generate more research funding and add to their own power and prestige within the academic "market-place".
    Again, this is down to the funding of science, its public perception and so on.
    Quote Originally Posted by zhao View Post
    - science has splintered off into a mass of specialized sub-topics, each with its own language, pre-occupations, priorities, agendas, and politics, and each seemingly disinterested in the work going on in other sub-topics. Some funding sources such as foundations encourage inter-disciplinary research, but the overall dynamic is that of knowledge silos.
    The hyper-specialisation of science is a necessary result of the advancement of scientific knowledge. Many of the best scientists are interested in and knowledgeable a huge range of subjects, both scientific and otherwise.
    Quote Originally Posted by zhao View Post
    - the overall result of this mass of fragmented, and only partially-compatible, activity on separate sub-topics is not necessarily enlightenment and the betterment of the human race, but often noise and a degraded quality of life for all.
    Again, this depends entirely on how the fruits of research are handled.
    Quote Originally Posted by zhao View Post
    - an underlying issue is that many of the elements excluded by definition from the purview of science, because not directly observable, turn out to be some of the things that make life most worth living. It is painful to think of the coming millennium being based on such a stunted vision of human life.
    What can I say? Science is never going to tell you how to be happy, how to love people or how to make sense of your life. Complaining that science doesn't do those things is a bit like complaining that your stereo doesn't wash your dishes for you. It's a straw man 50 foot tall.
    Last edited by Mr. Tea; 21-04-2007 at 07:20 PM.

  2. #17

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    I am not "against science" per se, but only interested in a critique of it as a narrative, and the culture this narrative has helped build
    What do you mean by "as a narrative"?

    i think it possible to envision a more "holistic" discipline which does away with the binary opositions between science and spirituality, between reason and intuition.
    Galileo pointed out that the sun, stars and planets seen from Earth move in such a way as to suggest that the Earth is revolving around the sun and the stars are fixed or a long way away.
    The Inquisition said, no, the Earth is fixed in the centre and everything else revolves around it. God has decided to make it appear exactly as if what you say were true but actually it isn't.

    So Galileo had a good explanation of why the stars and sun appear to move as they do, whilst the Inquisition only had a strangely complicated explanation that actually relied on including Galileo's and adding unnecessary complications. Worse, it doesn't give any reason why God would want to deceive us in this way.

    There is nothing to stop you believing Galileo and yet still being filled with spiritual wonder at the universe. Spirituality and reason are compatible.

    But it is foolish to discard a good explanation for a bad one (because it is more "spiritual") and believe the Inquisistion (unless you are trying to avoid being put to death by them).

    Of course now I am painting "religion" with the same brush you were using for "science"... but the point I want to make isnt that religion is bad because of what the Inquisition did, it is that science gives us good explanations of the world whereas religion/spirituality/intuition gives poorer explanations.

    perhaps a way of knowledge which swings the penduluum back toward the center, away from the masculine priviledging and over-dependence of logic...
    there is no known other means than science for creating knowledge. can you define "intuition" as anything more than handed-down scientific knowledge mixed with guesswork?

    what is masculine about logic? i can't understand. do you think women can't reason consistently?

    I think what we need is more consideration and love for one another, based on rational, honest truth about the results of our actions. I don't think science is to blame for warmongering or greed or self-centredness but it can be perverted by these drives, as can religion/spirituality etc etc.

    OK now I am going to listen to some loud techno with some other humans. Laters...

  3. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by Edward View Post
    Galileo pointed out that the sun, stars and planets seen from Earth move in such a way as to suggest that the Earth is revolving around the sun and the stars are fixed or a long way away.
    The Inquisition said, no, the Earth is fixed in the centre and everything else revolves around it. God has decided to make it appear exactly as if what you say were true but actually it isn't.

    So Galileo had a good explanation of why the stars and sun appear to move as they do, whilst the Inquisition only had a strangely complicated explanation that actually relied on including Galileo's and adding unnecessary complications. Worse, it doesn't give any reason why God would want to deceive us in this way.

    There is nothing to stop you believing Galileo and yet still being filled with spiritual wonder at the universe. Spirituality and reason are compatible.

    But it is foolish to discard a good explanation for a bad one (because it is more "spiritual") and believe the Inquisistion (unless you are trying to avoid being put to death by them).
    Naive question: is the point here that we're working with different sorts of knowledge, not with different ways of getting at the same knowledge? If I want to know how much electricity I can put through a piece of copper wire before it melts, I'd ask a scientist for instance, whereas if I needed to deal with the inevitability of death (to use a cheesy example) I'd ask a priest or a poet or a musician. So would the 'holistic' discipline not be something that views these two things as completely different sorts of question requiring entiely different approaches - or indeed views one of them as truth / knowledge and the other as hot air - but something that views them both being aspects of some sort of unified drive towards understanding stuff?

  4. #19
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    The thing with science is knowledge like this http://www.seedmagazine.com/news/200..._in_silico.php is so much more compelling and revealing than a critique of scientific knowledge.

  5. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by zhao View Post
    ...to clarify, i do think Lyotard and this article are dealing with Science in the wider sense, as an ideology...
    I think we've hit the nail on the head here. Science is not, never has been and never will be an ideology. It's no more an ideology than Buddhism is a theory of atomic interactions. Anyone who claims it is - whether they are a critic of science or (claim to be) a scientist - is simply mistaken.
    Edit:
    Quote Originally Posted by zhao View Post
    an underlying issue is that many of the elements excluded by definition from the purview of science, because not directly observable, turn out to be some of the things that make life most worth living. It is painful to think of the coming millennium being based on such a stunted vision of human life.
    Two things:
    1) science - particularly physics - deals all the time with things that are not directly observable. Who has ever *directly* observed a human cell, let alone an electron, let alone a virtual particle that only 'semi-exists'? Yet in the case of the latter, mathematics based on such a concept allows scientists to make concrete predictions that can be compared to real-life data to a marvelous degree of accuracy, and
    2) I personally find it painful to think of life in the next millennium without adequate food, medicines, building materials, energy sources...see what I'm getting at here? Either try to derive those things from astrology or religion or culturally-correct post-modern anti-rationality or simply run off and live in the woods if you like, but don't come crying to me when it all goes severely Pete Tong.
    Last edited by Mr. Tea; 21-04-2007 at 01:03 AM.

  6. #21
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    i kinda wish Nomad and K-punk and some of the others more versed in post-structuralism were here...

    I'll see about getting nomad.

    proper responses later...

  7. #22
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    post modernisim or even continental philosophy and science just seem diamerically opposed, historically they have been since luce irigay's idea that e equals mc squared was a sexed equation and lacan's flawed attempts at maths. Philosophy, logic and mathematics aren't though of course. There is a philosophy of science but it's mainly about logic.
    A bit off thread it always struck me how badly science and christianity get on nowdays, it's clear that intelligent design is flawed, so why not thank god for science instead? It just betrays the fact that really intelligent design is about narratives, which adam and eve and the bible are the end of the day. It's also no suprise that new age guru guys are encouraging readers to get into i.d.
    Last edited by mms; 21-04-2007 at 10:30 AM.

  8. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by mms View Post
    ...historically they have been since luce irigay's idea that e equals mc squared was a sexed equation and lacan's flawed attempts at maths.
    Oh God, don't start that again!
    Quote Originally Posted by mms View Post
    It's also no suprise that new age guru guys are encouraging readers to get into i.d.
    No use...top about to blow...
    *KABOOM*

  9. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by Slothrop View Post
    Naive question: is the point here that we're working with different sorts of knowledge, not with different ways of getting at the same knowledge? If I want to know how much electricity I can put through a piece of copper wire before it melts, I'd ask a scientist for instance, whereas if I needed to deal with the inevitability of death (to use a cheesy example) I'd ask a priest or a poet or a musician. So would the 'holistic' discipline not be something that views these two things as completely different sorts of question requiring entiely different approaches - or indeed views one of them as truth / knowledge and the other as hot air - but something that views them both being aspects of some sort of unified drive towards understanding stuff?
    I think a very important distinction here is that if you were to ask any two (competent) scientists the copper-wire question, you'd get the same answer, whereas you could get completely different answers about death from, say, a Christian, a Buddhist, a nihilist and an existentialist and no one of them would be any more correct or valid than the others.
    Last edited by Mr. Tea; 21-04-2007 at 07:32 PM.

  10. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mr. Tea View Post
    Oh God, don't start that again!

    No use...top about to blow...
    *KABOOM*
    raa raa raa

  11. #26
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    Quote Originally Posted by zhao View Post
    i kinda wish Nomad and K-punk and some of the others more versed in post-structuralism were here...

    I'll see about getting nomad.

    proper responses later...
    Zhao, I know fuck all about post-structuralism but I've studied as both a scientist and a historian/philosopher of science, and I'm mainly with you. So I'll have a crack at some of this stuff!


    [quote = Edward] Science is not a philosophy. There are philosophical arguments as to why scientific reasoning is valid and of course they are not beyond criticism, but it is the best thing we've got for creating knowledge, without doubt.
    [/quote]

    Science is two things - a methodology and a philosophy. The philosophical portion is of course what the epistemological function of science is; if you are a Popperian, which you clearly are, then the method of science is clawing you ever onwards towards an un-obtainable "truth", better and better approximations produced over time as science refines itself.

    But you can't just say "go read some Popper". Popper thought he'd solved the problem of induction, by introducing falsificationism, which if you read the "Logic of Scientific Discovery" he clearly falls down on - lots of hand waving to try and convince us that induction an a negative direction (i.e. falsification) isn't really induction at all. See Lakatos' critiques for starters...

    And Thomas Kuhn's theories about paradigm change are a load of nonsense.
    And I can say the same about Popper's theories... which gets us nowhere

    Science is not a philosophy. There are philosophical arguments as to why scientific reasoning is valid and of course they are not beyond criticism, but it is the best thing we've got for creating knowledge, without doubt.
    This is self contradictory - if you want to take a position on whether science is valid or not, you must agree or disagree with its fundamental philosophical claims. Being a scientist, or a supporter of science, means you tacitly agree to certain commitments - i.e. materialism, induction (or falsifcationalism), reductionism etc. Science is only the best thing for creating certain kinds of knowledge - it's pretty useless for giving you any knowledge about literature, music and so on...

    Quote Originally Posted by Mr. Tea
    Define "higher". Science is not about God, or love, or the soul, or the meaning of Life. These are the realms of philosophers, theologians, mystics and poets. Science is about trying to rationally understand and explain the phenomena of the physical universe, nothing more, nothing less. This could mean trying to reconstruct the conditions that existed a fraction of a second after the Big Bang or it could mean sequencing the DNA of bread mould.
    But materialist science is about god, the soul and the meaning of life - the material universe being all there is, then unless these things have a physical basis they do not exist at all (I admit I'm using physicalism and materialism as synonyms here - but that's what I assume you're doing to unless you substribe to some sort of non-reductive physicalism).

    Possibly a better way of getting at what Zhao is talking about, instead of describing science as "narrative" or "ideology" , is science as discipline. Science is not just the methodology, but the system of academia, peer review, and all the human aspects that go along with it. Science as practice doesn't always (and radically, never) follow its idealised objectivity, and how can it, when it takes place in the minds of subjective agents? Which is were you get back into this age old argument about whether an objective "view-from-nowhere" is possible or if if you can never escape the confines of your own subjectivity (Wittgenstein, Heidegger and all that follows...)

    Collins & Pinch's The Golem: what everyone should know about science is a very readable introduction instances of science's failure to live up to its standards "in the field", a lot less philosophically technical than the book Zhao quoted from the introduction (although that does look an interesting read now I've gone back and read the full posts...)

  12. #27
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    Quote Originally Posted by tryptych View Post
    But materialist science is about god, the soul and the meaning of life - the material universe being all there is, then unless these things have a physical basis they do not exist at all (I admit I'm using physicalism and materialism as synonyms here - but that's what I assume you're doing to unless you substribe to some sort of non-reductive physicalism).
    Does science have to be materialist, though? What I thought scientists said, strictly speaking, is that unless things have a physical basis they don't have a place in a scientific model for the physical world, not that this model is then the same thing as Reality and that therefore things without a physical basis aren't Real....

  13. #28
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    Quote Originally Posted by Slothrop View Post
    Does science have to be materialist, though? What I thought scientists said, strictly speaking, is that unless things have a physical basis they don't have a place in a scientific model for the physical world, not that this model is then the same thing as Reality and that therefore things without a physical basis aren't Real....
    I would broadly agree with this. I happen not to believe in ghosts or God or things of that nature, but there's no way science can ever be used to disprove their existence, because they are inherently supernatural, and science is, at its most fundamental, the study of the natural universe. On less mystical, but somewhat more metaphysical, grounds, you can talk about things like patterns, cultures, emotions, opinions, ideas, numbers, languages - all things which unarguably 'exist', but have no physical reality. Perhaps you can call them gestalt entities or emergent phenomena or something - I don't know, I'm not an ontologist. What's interesting is that in some branches of physics we deal with entities such as 'space-time' or the quantum 'state vector' which aren't necessarily physically real either (especially in the latter case) but can nonetheless be used to formulate calculations that predict observables, i.e. tangible phenomena.

    So yes, it's not necessarily the case that something without physical reality has no Reality at all.

  14. #29

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    Interesting posts,especially Tryptych... I'm a bit too raved out to reply to that one right now but will post some thoughts tomorrow hopefully.

    But Mr Tea, I am shocked that you are talking about the supernatural. Surely "nature" is just everything that exists. So IF there are ghosts, god etc, they are part of it too.
    Do you think there are things that do not obey the same laws of nature as everything else? If there are, doesn't that just mean we've got the laws of nature wrong? Or do we need two sets of rules? And then we may discover super-supernatural things that require a third.... that way lies trouble!

    Slothrop, I think one of the fundamentals of most scientific viewpoints is that everything that exists has a physical basis. Otherwise in what sense can it be said to exist?
    Even your dreams exist as physical patterns of neuron firings inside your brain.

    But materialist science is about god, the soul and the meaning of life - the material universe being all there is, then unless these things have a physical basis they do not exist at all (I admit I'm using physicalism and materialism as synonyms here - but that's what I assume you're doing to unless you substribe to some sort of non-reductive physicalism).
    I'm in agreement with that, although I think there is in all probablility more than one "universe" as we usually define the term. Will get back to you....

    Lory D was awesome on Saturday night.....

  15. #30
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    Quote Originally Posted by Edward View Post
    But Mr Tea, I am shocked that you are talking about the supernatural. Surely "nature" is just everything that exists. So IF there are ghosts, god etc, they are part of it too.
    Do you think there are things that do not obey the same laws of nature as everything else? If there are, doesn't that just mean we've got the laws of nature wrong? Or do we need two sets of rules? And then we may discover super-supernatural things that require a third.... that way lies trouble!
    Just as well I don't belive in it, then!

    I think every physical process happens according to laws that are, in principle, amenable to rational understanding. However, there are quite clearly cases of very complex systems which interact and evolve in ways that are not actually physical as such, in that the laws (or 'guidelines') governing such systems cannot be derived from physical first principles. I'm talking about things like culture, languages, ecosystems, economies. I'm not a reductionist.

    Going back to the supernatural, I suppose it's conceivable that you could have a kind of Aristotlean 'one set of laws for the physical world, and one for the spiritual', or something like that. Obviously as someone who has no truck with mumb-jumbo I don't find this necessary myself.

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