Monday, August 19, 2013

What is Truth?

A few days ago I read a handful of articles about 'Scientism' and the role that science should play in our society. The idea being that science is the only way to discover Truth, and that it should be the foundation of any policy decisions made concerning the governing of humanity. Or as good old Wikipedia says: "It has been defined as the view that the characteristic inductive methods of the natural sciences are the only source of genuine factual knowledge and, in particular, that they alone can yield true knowledge about man and society" This leads me to what I would consider my two main critiques of science and finally to an often overlooked danger of scientific thinking.

 1) In the scientific method, experiments are performed and results are observed. But every observation has to be at a remove from the thing be observed. We can only observe through our five senses. What we observe is taken through our senses and interpreted by our mind. No two individuals can observe the same thing in the same way. A lot of scientific observation is through intermediary technologies. If I look through a microscope I now have two layers of observation between myself and the thing I am observing. The technologies we use are limited by what we have created, which in turn is limited by what we are looking for and what we imagine can exist. The further the remove from observer to observed, the further from the Truth we are. Because of this, science can only get at an approximation of the Truth, and only at the Truths we are looking for.

 2) Science is language, language is metaphor, metaphor is not reality. Or, a map is not the land being shown. Or, the name of a thing is not the thing. Science is thus limited by the fact that it can only be a representation of reality. Increasingly precise language, like increasingly precise tools of observation, can bring one closer to Truth, but never to the Truth. I'm not trying to knock science, but I think a lot of people, especially in the modern age, believe that science can find Truth. This can be very dangerous indeed, and is where science starts to head down that slippery slope towards religion. Instead, it is important to know where science comes up short and to remain skeptical of people proclaiming their scientifically derived Truth.

And then the great danger of science! I would suggest that anyone going into a scientific field of study read the book Cat's Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. There are things that should not be studied and should not be invented. Nuclear weaponry, GMO foods, derivatives, to name a few. Just because we can, does not mean we should.

Once again, I invite any comments, critiques, or maniacal ranting.

The apparatus of our enslavement is the tool of our liberation.

May all beings be happy.

1 comment:

  1. I've pondered your questions at length, but, for whatever reason, haven't gotten around to trying to provide an attempt at an “answer.” Perhaps it is the sheer enormity of your questions that has deterred me.

    Still, spurred on by an issue with Pearl over at Sardonicky, I have, perhaps, provided a partial response to part of your principal question which deserves some elaboration in your forum.

    Even as a "practicing" scientist, that is, a scientist by disposition, training and successful career, I don't believe that Science is the source of all Truth.

    As I told Pearl on "The Devil in the Details," I believe that there is more to our existence than science can explain. There is no easy way to "explain" this belief, so as I make my feeble attempt, keep in mind that I am not any kind of physicist of cosmologist.

    Perhaps it's because the more that particle physicists split ever smaller fragments of the atom, the more particles they continue to find. Perhaps it's because cosmologists can tell us with some alleged certainty what our Universe looked like millionths, billionths and maybe even trillionths of a second “this side” of the the Big Bang, but have not a clue as to what existed on the “other side” of the Big Bang, if, indeed, there was an “other side” to the phenomenon that gave birth to our existence.

    I won't even try to get into the spiritual can of worms that quantum physicists opened in the early- to mid-20th century!

    (But for a good read, consider “Quantum Questions,” by author Ken Wilber.)

    We exist inside a “system” that we may never be able to see from the outside, and, hence, may never be able to fully understand. And to the extent that that remains a scientific reality, to that same extent, any attempts to understand the “Why?” of our existence will rely upon Truths obtained from some other source.

    To me, the road to that “other source” of Truth is spiritual inquiry. Pearl has implied that such an inquiry is highly self-centric. I see it as expansive, without being able to fully explain what that even means. This spiritual inquiry is mostly on an intellectual plane, based on observations of the physical world that seem inexplicable at the moment, but is also driven by personal experiences that seem to lie outside the realm of science and testable, empirical knowledge.

    I've had one such experience, and others whom I know and trust have shared similar experiences with me. I won't attempt to describe them, but we all agree that each of us, in our own way, seems to have stumbled upon what Kenneth Wilber refers to as the “thin places” in the Universe, where another source of knowledge manifested itself.

    I won't belabor this point, but my own experience, “co-experienced” with my wife at exactly the same time, I might add, persuades me that

    “"There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our [current] philosophy.”--Wm. Shakespeare, “Hamlet.”

    And, IMHO as a journeyman scientist, that may always remain the case.