15 May 2018

Modern science's theological hubris

 Modern science is very proud of itself, overweeningly so, for all it has effected and effects in the world. It has differentiated itself into countless areas of knowledge in both the natural and social sciences. The specialization into different kinds of knowing is so ramified, that not even those scientists working in the same science know about what their colleagues are doing in the very next compartment. To say nothing of whether, say, an economist knows anything about biology or vice versa. 

Regardless of the narrowing of the mind that accompanies scientific specialization, science is very proud for all the progress it continues to make, for its mission will never be finally accomplished. What is this mission? It is to establish foreknowing, effective mastery over all types of movement and change in the world, no matter of what kind including, of course, through medical science, the inevitable movement of mortal human life toward death. This scientific way of knowing has established itself as purportedly the sole mode of knowing access to the world that can be taken at all seriously. Everything else — such as literature, the arts, religion, the humanities — is merely cultural decoration which, of course, many scientists enjoy on the side. Science, however, is concerned with establishing the truth of the world through its empirically-based scientific method which, it claims, is the sole kind of truth with any serious credibility. Hence, any scientific claim has to be backed by reference to empirical studies or replicable experiments. For this scientific mind-set, all else is merely unsubstantiated, drivelling waffle. 

The scientific mind-set is smugly confident that it has the knowledge-game sewn up. It purports to have the only game in town that no other area of intellectual endeavour can hope to match. The humanities, for instance, are conceded their appropriate playground for reflecting on the human condition, but they represent no danger whatsoever to scientific knowing's hegemony, based as it is on the ostensibly hard, indisputable evidence of experimentally registered facts.

But this story of science's putatively unchallengeable hegemony as the only mode of truth is too good to be true. Its Achilles' heel is the state of empirical facts which the scientific mind takes to be naked facts, i.e. the 'unvarnished' data collected, according to proper experimental design, which are fed into a scientific theoretical model to either confirm or falsify it. In truth, these naked facts are vested with an interpretation prior to their being taken as facts. All so-called naked facts are in fact hermeneutically enrobed. The name for this a priori interpretation of all phenomena in the world is the hermeneutic As, for every phenomenon that shows itself to the human mind is understood in some way or other (including even misunderstood) as such-and-such. 

The most elementary phenomenological example of such showing-as is the category of something. If you look, say, at your left index finger, you see it as something, don't you? If you look at your right foot, you also see it as something, even as something else, don't you? Finger and foot are both understood 'self-evidently' as something, although, if you inspect your finger or foot, you can find no trace of the category of something in them. There is no empirical-factual basis for the category of something. Nor is the category of something to be discovered as some kind of evolutionarily arisen, genetically steered neuronal trace in the brain that generates somehow or other a subjective category of something in each and every single consciousness. For science the category of something is causally inexplicable. Nevertheless, something itself is indubitably a category interposed between your mind and the thing itself enabling you to understand anything as something.

This apparently trivial observation is, in truth, crucial, for the interpretive access to the world from the ground up does not stop with the category of something. The hermeneutic as interposes itself between the mind and beings showing themselves in the difference between beings themselves and how they are understood as such-and-such in their being. In phenomenology, this is known as the ontological difference between beings and their being, i.e. their 'beingness'. Among other things, phenomenological ontology studies the beingness of beings as they show themselves in a given age to an historical hermeneutic cast of mind.

At the culmination of ancient Greek thinking, Aristotle worked out his ontology of movement, which had been a problem for philosophy since its inception with Parmenides. What is movement/change? How is it to be conceived as a mode of being? Aristotle's answer is that movement is to be conceived as the putting-to-work of a power to effect an end. The Greek word for power here is δύναμις, which can be translated also as force, potential or potency. A power at work is its energy, ἐνέργεια, which effects finally (τέλος) a finished product.

Now the punch-line: this Aristotelean ontology of effective, productive movement was adopted by modern science, starting with Newton et al., whilst tacitly dropping its hermeneutic nature as an ontology of effective movement. With this sleight of hand, modern scientific slipped in its way of knowing in terms of cause and effect as the now apparently unquestionable nature of all movement and change in the world, whether it be natural or social. All today's scientific knowing (ἐπιστήμη) is dedicated to this ontology of effective movement, without knowing its own ontological orientation. From the start, the social sciences sought to emulate the natural sciences' success and hence adopted unwittingly also its ontology of efficient-causal movement. The only hitch is whether all movement and change in the world really does show itself to a careful gaze at the phenomena themselves as effected. Modern science postulates dogmatically that it is unquestionably so, and it points to the empirical evidence and the apparent unparalleled success of its theoretical models.  Even the quirkiness of so-called quantum indeterminacy will not stand in its way (which, incidentally, itself results from modern mathematical physics' misinterpretation of the nature of movement itself; cf. Digital Cast of Being).

But science's so-called evidence base is a case of blatantly begging the question (petitio principii), for the very principle is never put into question. In this case, the principle, i.e. the beginning, is the foundational ontology of effective movement. Since all modern science, of whatever ilk, denies the ontological difference, it is unable to see that its effective-causal access to the world is itself an effect of its own tunnel vision. Unbeknownst to itself, it is not only ontological in nature, but also thoroughly theological. It is, in truth, onto-theological. 

But hang on, this must be nonsense, for doesn't modern science reject all talk of God and gods? Nonetheless, the hidden god of all modern science is the absolute will to effective power over all kinds of movement and change, which science devotedly worships absolutely, not tolerating any other god beside it, i.e. another kind of knowing based on an alternative ontology of movement and change whose aim is not effective mastery. Those scientists who faithfully dedicate their lives to worshipping their unknown god are amply rewarded with secure, well-paid careers and honours bestowed.

I call the alternative mode of movement and change that calls for thinking today interplay. Unlike productive, effective movement, interplay is played out among two, three or many sources of power, instead of the classical ontology of effective movement that has to proceed from a single source of power, i.e. force. In classical ontology, if there are two or more forces, they interact, and their interaction remains precalculable by simple mathematical vector addition. This continues to hold when forces are conceived as force-fields. Not so with the ontology of interplay, in which the various sources of power are in unfathomable, unpredictable interplay with one another. That is, interplay is ontologically fundamentally different from interaction.
Hopelessly caught as it is in its own theological hubris coupled with deep ontological naivety, the modern scientific mind refuses absolutely to deny its hidden god and countenance an alternative, namely, an ontology of interplay as a kind of movement sui generis. Such an ontology demands learning to see that the interplay among sources of power is applicable first and foremost to us human beings sharing the world with each other. The interplay is, in the first place, one of the mutual estimation and esteeming of powers residing in the plurality of individual players. The individual players can no longer be understood as a kind of whats, e.g. hermeneutically cast as conscious subjects, but must be conceived as whos playing in the estimative interplay and demanding an explicitly unfolded phenomenology of whoness.

Already Aristotle's ethics were lacking their proper foundation in an ontology of sociating, estimative interplay. Instead, his ontology of effective movement was implicitly at work also in his ethics, which resulted in their being conceived hermeneutically as normatively bridling, a negative enterprise and one posterior to effective, productive knowing. A positive ethics, however, consists in taking the phenomenality of mutually estimating interplay into view and explicitly working out the appropriate ontology of sociating interplay.

Needless to say, all ethics since Aristotle have also remained captive implicitly to the will to effective power, with the result that all ethics hitherto have concerned themselves exclusively with normatively bridling effective and social power as some kind of afterthought. Hence ethics' impotence due to its always coming too late. Our present state of mind pays dearly for wilful blindness to the hermeneutic As lodged in the ontological difference, for it prevents seeing modern science as the consummation of the onto-theology of effective power.

Further reading: Social Ontology and, for the absolute will to effective power personified playfully as Willy P., Land of Matta

1 comment:

  1. i have had several long discussions with scientists who simply cannot see that their epistemological system is based in articles of faith. scientists act like a priest class, whose authority derives from saint popper.
    i wrote a little limerick about scientists and their arrogant ignorant claims:

    a science professor professed
    that his way of knowing was best
    "you know that i know
    bloody ev'rything, so
    what others think must be suppressed"

    this is a serious matter, because the scientific world-view has led us to the current situation of control = dominating nature (and other human beings) by means of toxic agriculture, atomic weapons, deforestation, propaganda, etc.

    of course scientists like to try to avoid responsibility for all this mess, just a christian priests tried to avoid responsibility for all the violence of the early colonial era. the ontology inherent in the scientific world-view treats the world as a source of raw materials to be turned into products, rather than a manifestation of Mother Nature. the ethics of exploiting raw materials are different from a relationship with a living biosphere of which all humans are a part. as soon as we see the natural world as "out there" (rather than seeing ourselves as a part of nature) we are doomed to act the model of domination.
    how can philosophers teach scientists about interplay? how can we go beyond the ethics of force?