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Posts Tagged ‘scientism’

Irrational rationality

Sunday, January 20th, 2008

“We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.”
Carl Sagan

We seem to be in the midst of a retreat from rationality. At least, so say many commentators in the media at present, and judging by the online comments to their articles, many people appear to agree with them. They point to the rise of ‘New Ageism’ and other assorted ‘illogical’ beliefs like complementary and alternative therapies, bemoaning the failure of Joe Public to take on board the principles of robust science and calling for ever more stringent controls on the spread of such ‘preposterous nonsense’.

In many ways they seem to be right. Though whether this is any kind of ‘retreat’, who can say? Throwing the spotlight on areas that have been lurking in shadow often creates an illusion of some kind of a trend when really things have always been that way. We just didn’t see them before.

But as to where the ‘new’ irrationallism is evidencing itself, well that’s another matter entirely. More and more it seems as if the accusatory finger ought to be pointing straight at its owner’s own reflection in the mirror.

As Holmes et al wrote in a 2006 paper entitled Deconstructing the evidence-based discourse in health sciences: truth, power and fascism. International Journal of Evidence Based Health 2006; 4: 180–186,

“… the evidence-based movement in the health sciences is outrageously exclusionary and dangerously normative with regards to scientific knowledge. As such, we assert that the evidence-based movement in health sciences constitutes a good example of microfascism at play in the contemporary scientific arena. The philosophical work of Deleuze and Guattari proves to be useful in showing how health sciences are colonised (territorialised) by an all-encompassing scientific research paradigm – that of post-positivism – but also and foremost in showing the process by which a dominant ideology comes to exclude alternative forms of knowledge, therefore acting as a fascist structure.”

Such behaviour might be understandable, but it’s neither rational, nor scientific. The scientific method dictates that theory must always give way to evidence and that, no matter how successful the theory, if the evidence challenges it, then it’s the theory that must adapt. Successful theories mustbe able to explain and predict events which they attempt to describe with precision. Yet increasingly we’re seeing attempts to preserve scientific orthodoxy by denial of conflicting evidence.

At this point in time we’re presented with a situation summed up very well in a 2002 paper by Richard Shoup, Anomalies and Constraints:. Can Clairvoyance, Precognition, and Psychokinesis. Be Accommodated within Known Physics? Journal of Scientific Exploration, 2002; 16; 1, pp3–18.

“Arguably, nowhere in the history of mankind has common human experience so strongly conflicted with mainstream scientific opinion.”

The paper refers to psi phenomena, but Shoup could just as well have been writing about medicine. Crtically, since science can only ever reflect a uniquely human understanding of a uniquely human experience of existence, this discontinuity throws into stark relief the extent to which science is failing its own precepts. Science has become scientism.

It’s interesting too, in this context, that we’re seeing a rise in fundamentalist interpretations of scientific theory which seem to closely parallel the rise in religious fundamentalism. Both are pursued with missionary zeal by some very noisy and angry people. Both seek to make their points of view “the rule” for everyone else to abide by.

Perhaps this is no bad thing in some ways – such attempts to enforce rules which make little sense to large numbers of people generally result in people rejecting them in favour of something more sensible. It doesn’t take too much imagination to see that the fundamentalists could soon end up as marginalised minorities while the rest of us adopt a more pragmatic and humane approach to a genuine congruence with experience in both science and spirituality.

“In the Garden of gentle sanity may you be bombarded by coconuts of wakefulness.”
Vidyadhara Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche

Thanks to the current insanity revolving around homeopathy in this country, in both media and blogosphere, it's become necessary to insult your intelligence by explicitly drawing your attention to the obvious fact that any views or advice in this weblog/website are, unless stated otherwise, the opinions of the author alone and should not be taken as a substitute for medical advice or treatment. If you choose to take anything from here that might be construed as advice, you do so entirely under your own recognisance and responsibility.

smeddum.net - Blog: Confessions of a Serial Prover. Weblog on homeopathy, health and related subjects by homeopathic practitioner Wendy Howard