June 14, 2006

Am I a Scientismist?

One of my academic and religious friends sent me an article via IM a while back. It was entitled the Mantle of Science, by Murray Rothbard. Perhaps it was his dosed response to my criticisms of Catholicism, or maybe he just wanted to share something interesting with me in his random economic readings. I skimmed through the introduction and I realized that this phenomenon of Scientism certainly described me. Perhaps not quite in the terms used in the article which states:
Scientism is the profoundly unscientific attempt to transfer uncritically the methodology of the physical sciences to the study of human action... Only human beings possess free will and consciousness: for they are conscious, and they can, and indeed must, choose their course of action. To ignore this primordial fact about the nature of man—to ignore his volition, his free will—is to misconstrue the facts of reality and therefore to be profoundly and radically unscientific.
Scientismists, according to Rothbard, takes the claims of science to an exaggerated level and deemphasizes the uniqueness of humans. I didn't find very much of his paper to be compelling, probably because it kept talking about economics and society rather than the flaws of scientism. However, I did find myself exploring more on the topic of Scientism itself.

Wikipedia offers a few other definitions that raises science to the level of religion (including one from Isaac Asimov's science-fiction series.) My favorites are:
Scientism is the contention that the social sciences should be held to the somewhat stricter interpretation of scientific method used by the natural sciences.
Scientism sees science as the absolute and only justifiable access to the truth.
The first definition I like because I have criticized one of my friends majoring in a field called "political science" which in my opinion, lacks true science. The second tacks a name on my beliefs. Some people place their faith in God. I place my faith in rational people. Does this mean that I idolize scientists?

Yeah, I guess I do. Science leads to a greater understanding of our world and it challenges our assumptions. Buckminster Fuller, a Scientismist and an idol of mine, would harshly criticize concepts like sunrise/sunset, up/down, and wind blowing. We used to think that the Earth was the center of the universe. Now that we know different, we should start using the terms "sunsight" and "sunclipse." Up and down should be replaced with out and in, in relation to gravitational pull. Wind doesn't blow, it sucks... flowing towards areas of low pressure. Fuller ceased using the nonsensical words, prefering his more accurate descriptions of the phenomena involved.

Albert Einstein proved relativity which doesn't seem to mesh with our daily observation of the world. I mean, how mind-boggling is it, to realize that no two events can happen at the same time? They only seem to happen at the same time for one observer, but it is sequentially different for another. There is no objective, third point of view that decides which even happens first or which one happens second... it is merely relative. This seeming nonsense is TRUE.

Science has the power to confirm and deny truths in a way that nothing else can. Inner contemplation or discussion with intellectual peers can only take you so far in the journey to understanding. To progress further, you need to question, theorize, experiment and observe as a true scientist would. Yet scientists themselves often disagree on what findings are significant and what they really mean.

When we come to the study of human nature, a whole host of difficulties arise. Ethical issues in human experimentation, the fear of malevolent misuse of gained information, the biases of self-examination... the list goes on and on. Some people feel that the poetry is lost when we can be described in terms of neurochemical impulses, cellular mechanisms and physical action. For me, it just makes the world that much more amazing how we can sustain whatever it is we call a consciousness in the midst of all these self-described connections.

There are many personal and philosophical questions that science cannot answer. I feel that everyone has an inner-world we are reluctant to share and this hesitancy will forever propagate our own mysteries. This is not a bad thing... just an unknowable one.

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