I'm usually a happy lurker on this mailing list but for whatever reason this discussion has got my hackles up.
If you love and care about science it is easy to be lulled into forgetting that Science has two intertwined histories. One is a beautiful quest for knowledge using a method of reasoning that over time leads to deep insights into the nature of our universe. This is the one we talk about most of the time. The other is a secular religion that worships a historical-social conception of technological progress and power - knowledge being a particularly potent form of power. This is history we would like forget or at least ignore.
One of those histories gave up Darwin. The other gave us Social Darwinist who measured skulls to scientifically prove that European Men were "more intelligent" than women or their colonial subjects and created human zoos right up until WWII for scientifically curious public. The Social Darwinists are not isolated incident but part of reoccurring historical pattern that stretches back at least to the Renaissance.
I having been working art project in which I have been doing a lot of reading from European historical record. This whole discussion thread reads like Church fathers discussing heterodoxy. And yes this discussion also reads like many 18th and 19th scientific journals that I plowed through filled with culturally biased pseudo-science alongside real research about the natural world.
I don't believe in ghosts and gods, prayer, miracles, eternal life, predestination, faith-healing, exorcism, burned witches, winged humanoids, sin, punishment, heaven, hell, voodoo either. Unfortunately Science is riddled with its own superstitions not the least of which is desperation for certainty. It easy to forget in the euphoria during periods of technological progress like today that in reality it has taken centuries of work by some of the greatest minds ever to understand how little we actually know.
For example how little we know about even basic material processes. Look at the Standard model in physics. In order to make the equation work and explain the universe requires the inferred existence of something on the order of 68.3% dark energy and 26.8% dark matter Realistically, we can only measure a small portion of the rest. Forget biology, we don't even understand completely how cancer works much less the brain. Neuroscience, although exciting, is in its infancy, the number and complexity of connections in the brain being orders of magnitude larger than the number of atoms in the known universe. You can quibble with me about using wikipedia as a easy source or percentages and exact numbers but that doesn't add a drop to the small sum of human knowledge. When Physics the HARDEST of the sciences can only possibly measure around 5% of the universe isn't time for some humbleness in the face of reality?.
I believe that eventually we will, with the scientific method, discover those answers, but that is a belief. It is a belief every bit as superstitions and illogical in its own way as those of ghosts and gods. The universe may be filled with black swans of all sorts that may mean the scientific project itself is a fool's quest. Let us hope for better.
There is also another uncomfortable truth lurking here. Most of the major problems we face as humans, ranging from global warming, environmental degradation to still constant threat of nuclear war arose from the superstitions of science not from the superstitions of ghost hunters and UFO quacks. Those problems will need science to fix. Yet how can scientists speak with credibility about these problems, if they refuse to knowledge the elephant in the room? Attacking the relatively harmless, if illogical, beliefs of others without acknowledging the consequences of your own illogical beliefs isn't just inconsistent, it could now potentially threaten our ability to survive as a species.
I don't believe that those posting in this discussion are ignorant neo-Social Darwinists, or lobbyists for the weapons and petrochemical industries either. I believe this discussion is meant in good faith. Faith here is a key word. However the way scientists generally learn the history of Science contributes both to scientific progress and to a certain groupthink. The bulk of the history of Science is resides in nasty blind alleys of cultural prejudice which science majors are rarely taught about or are taught in a way that minimize the impact on the triumphant march of scientific progress (now there is a fairytale.) Unfortunately that groupthink often makes it difficult for scientists to understand how the rest of the world sees them as a group. Even how their rhetorical methods actively discourage many rational people from accepting any or certain parts of the good scientific evidence available. If there is any point in an artist who cares about science contributing in a discussion like Yasmine, it is because artists do not approach the history of ideas from that same blinkered perspective. Our blinkers are entirely different, but that is another discussion.
Thanks for your attention to such a long, heated post.
work too hard, think too much and have way too much fun,
Aprille Best GLOVER
22, la grand rue
+33 (0)6 47 95 28 76
blog (english et français) http://le-grand-livre.com
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