Thursday, March 10, 2016

Science, Philosophy, Fundamentalism, Ignorance.

I hate the title "Why are so many scientists ignorant", not because it is incorrect, but because it will cause an emotional reaction. "Why are so many scientists poorly (or narrowly) educated?" would be better. The short and flip answer is because they have to be. Human brains, even genius ones have severely limited capacity compared to all the knowledge that there is. We all make choices in the Hobbesian bargain of choosing to "Know everything about nothing or nothing about everything".

If we are very smart, we can "cheat" and know "a lot" about some special area and still know a bit about a quite a few things, but since the body of knowledge is so large and the depth of any area is so deep, the effect is that all of us are at BEST "experts" in a narrow range, and ignorant about virtually everything else. It isn't an insult, it is just the way things are.

The problem in being ignorant about philosophy is that in order to even BEGIN to make any sort of value judgements about the possibilities of knowledge and the types thereof, you have to DO philosophy!

To argue that philosophy is useless is to do philosophy. Moreover, some existential questions simply can't be escaped, and philosophy is one of the best, or at least least bad, ways we've come up with to address those questions.
I am reminded of listening to MPR one day when they had a statistician on to discuss the lottery and gambling. A caller, clearly very sure of themselves, called in and said "I'm really glad you are having this show! My brother in law is REALLY stupid,  he always picks 1,2,3,4,5 with a Powerball of 6. What are the odds of THAT happening"?!

There was a long pause, "thanks for your call", and the statistician explained as nicely as he could that the odds were 1 in 292 million or so, exactly the same as the odds of any other set of 6 numbers being selected! The caller had a lot of confidence, but no demonstrated knowledge of statistics relative to his supposedly "stupid" brother in law.

So, Bill Nye, Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Stephen Hawking -- among many others end up sounding like the MPR caller as they call philosophy "useless". Hey smart guys, if it is so useless, how come you are attempting to DO IT??? !!!!

I've attempted to cover this ground in many ways on this blog, but I think the article is worth the read -- here is the part I liked best:

Instead, we've become a philosophically illiterate culture at large. Seemingly every day, you can find examples of people displaying stunning cultural illiteracy — people in positions where that simply should not happen. The great philosophical tradition that our civilization is built on is left largely untaught. Even "liberal arts" curricula in many colleges do not teach the most influential thinkers. If our elites aren't being taught this great tradition, then it should come as no surprise that some subset of that elite — experimental scientists and their hangers-on — don't know it.

That's part of the problem. But it's just a part of it. After all, as a group, scientists have an obvious objective interest in experimental science being recognized as the only path to valuable knowledge, and therefore an interest in disdaining other paths to knowledge as less valid. People who listen to scientists opine about philosophy ought to keep that in mind. 
And then there's another factor at play. Many, though certainly not all, of the scientists who opine loudest about the uselessness of philosophy are public atheists. The form of atheism they promote is usually known as "eliminative materialism," or the notion that matter is the only thing that exists. This theory is motivated by "scientism," or the notion that the only knowable things are knowable by science. Somewhat paradoxically, these propositions are essentially religious — to dismiss entire swathes of human experience and human thought requires a venture of faith. They're also not very smart religion, since they end up simply shouting away inconvenient propositions. 
Fundamentalism is not a belief system or a religion, it's a state of mind. There can be fundamentalist religion, fundamentalist atheism, fundamentalist socialism, fundamentalism libertarianism. What all of them have in common is, in David Bentley Hart's words, "a stubborn refusal to think." The fundamentalist is not the one whose ideas are too simple or too crude. He's the one who stubbornly refuses to think through either other ideas, or those ideas themselves.
We ALL have vast swaths of ignorance, but not knowing enough to get in out of the rain or not play in the middle of the freeway are critical bits of knowledge for even the most brilliant and focused of scientific or other prodigies. Not knowing enough about philosophy to understand that being a fundamentalist eliminative materialist is no "smarter" philosophically than being a fundamentalist Muslim or Christian makes one look as intellectually lost as the "smart guy" lottery caller.

"Post-modern" man tends to fall prey to this because of the removal of the humility of "the beginning of wisdom is the fear of God", coupled with the extremely oppressive and rigid set of rules of the modern religion of "secular humanism / liberalism". Where humility is a requirement for all practicing Jews and Christians, smugness is a requirement of followers of the inverted religion of "liberalism".

So there we see it yet again -- inversion, the mark of Satan. Is it any wonder that this world is starting to look like Hell?

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