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Science1 has been an immensely powerful tool for revealing the underpinnings of nature and for giving us new ways to meet our needs. However, powerful as science1 is, it has limits. It will serve us best if we ask of it what it does best.

Who am I to discuss these limits? I hold a Ph. D. in cell biology from Brown, practiced cell biology for nearly forty years, held an appointment as a full professor at a Big Ten university, published my age, had six cover photos, and was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Doubtless there are folks here who know more about science than I do, but I know enough to be getting on with the question at hand.
Before going further, it is necessary to distinguish two ways that the word "science" is used. One sense refers to the "scientific method," a recursive analytical method that uses what is already known to frame hypotheses, design experiments or observations to test the hypotheses, and then re-evaluate what is known and the truth value of the hypothesis. Lather, rinse, repeat. I'll call this science1. Science1 uses certain assumptions: it assumes that the material universe is all there is, that all phenomena are regular in that they obey either laws or have stochastic patterns, and so on. These assumptions are essential to the method, but clearly are not provable by the method.

A second common meaning of "science" is the world view that holds that the assumptions underpinning science1 are not just useful approximations or working rules, but an actual representation of the world. This world view is sometimes called scientism to distinguish it from the scientific method.  I'll call this science2. It's worth noting that science2 or scientism is much older than science1; it is the world view of materialism, and materialism dates back to the Romans and the Greeks, even some would say earlier still.

It's important to note that science1, the method, can't be used to prove science2, the world view. The method can't prove the world view, because it already assumes the key characteristics that science2, the world view, asserts to be true about the universe. People who hold the science2 world view have arrived at that conviction by various routes. Even within materialism, there are multiple flavors of world views. The key point here is that science1 by itself cannot choose a world view; it necessarily uses certain presuppositions about the world and about reason itself.

This distinction between science1 and science2 means that a lab group can have members who are Jewish, Mormon, Christian, Hindu and atheist, all happily applying science1 and making progress together at uncovering some niche of tthe universe because they are all agreed on the method. When the pipettes are put away and the beer has been cracked, they may then talk extensively and even warmly about the ways their world views overlap or contrast. I've had the pleasure of being part of such a lab cluster.

Science1 cannot answer questions of morality. As a method it can (sometimes) tell what is, but morality deals with what ought to be. This gulf is so great that it has a name of its own: the is/ought problem. Ethical systems need to take into account what is known to be factual, but the facts by themselves cannot settle questions of morals.

Science1 can tell us about galaxies photo: Galaxies Galaxies.jpg
and about cells photo: cells movingamoeba.gif and things even larger and smaller than these. But science1 cannot tell us how to treat our brothers and sisters, or what the meaning of our own lives is. Those answers must be sought elsewhere.


science1 = scientific method
science2 = scientism, materialism as a world view

Originally posted to Wee Thoughts on Wed May 21, 2014 at 11:50 AM PDT.

Also republished by SciTech.

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Comment Preferences

    •  game theory, and what works (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Wee Mama
      But science1 cannot tell us how to treat our brothers and sisters, or what the meaning of our own lives is. Those answers must be sought elsewhere.
      I would argue that science can very well do the former. Game theory and such. What works in our, or everyone's, favour on the long run; what increases the chance to have surviving offspring.

      Leaving the meaning of our lives to religion.

      I would also contest this:

      Science1 uses certain assumptions: it assumes that the material universe is all there is, that all phenomena are regular in that they obey either laws or have stochastic patterns, and so on. These assumptions are essential to the method, but clearly are not provable by the method.
      The material universe needn't be all there is, we just haven't so far found evidence to the contrary, and no method to test other hypotheses. That doesn't rule out per say that there might be any other options in the future, to which the scientific method should be applicable.

      Freedom is not just a word. 'Freedom' is a noun.

      by intruder from Old Europe on Wed May 21, 2014 at 07:38:05 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  But science can tell us (8+ / 0-)

    That so called racial differences are literally only skin deep and that genetics shows we are all indeed brothers and sisters. Science can tell us that many sexual orientations are natural. Which can tell us something about how we treat each other. Science can tell us that other animals feel pain and fear, and affection, which can tell us something about how we treat animals. Science can tell us how fragile the ecosystem is, and the consequences of global warming, species extinction, habitiat destruction, which can tell us something about how to treat the planet.

    •  It can tell us those things, but how to use that (10+ / 0-)

      knowledge will depend upon non-scientific considerations. For example, science shows that animals feel pain and fear. To a person who does not consider that they have any reason except prudence to avoid causing pain to humans, that scientific fact will not carry any force. Additionally, science can't tell us if the pain of animals carries the same moral force as humans, or if instead the needs of human ought to take priority.

      Definitely morals and ethics need to use the facts on the ground in as much detail as those can be known. Science is one of the tools that provides those facts.



      Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? . . . and respect the dignity of every human being.

      by Wee Mama on Wed May 21, 2014 at 12:20:13 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  None of this gets past the is/ought barrier (6+ / 0-)

      For example, science can show we are all brothers and sisters. No moral consequences follow from that, unless you add the non-scientific assumption that we should behave in some particularly way (kindly, generously, forgivingly, whatever) to siblings.

      And so down the line. Only if you add a moral assumption can the scientific information lead us to fresh moral conclusions. Science can tell us global warming will lead to species extinction, mass relocation of populaces. And...? You have to add the moral assumption that there is something wrong with those consequences to arrive at a moral conclusion about global warming.

      Incidentally, if Wee Mama is correct about materialism being a requisite assumption of the scientific method (there are reputable philosophers like John Searle who would disagree), science cannot in fact tell us that other animals feel pain, fear or affection. It could only tell us that they exhibit pain, fear, and affection behaviors. What they do or do not "feel" may well be generated or determined by material factors, but they are not facts about the material world. So Descartes dogmatically asserted that animals are mere machines which exhibit emotional behaviors but can no more feel pain than can a stone or a fern. Some admirable instinct in us automatically rejects Descartes' dogma, but it is not (again, if Wee Mama has properly characterized science-1) a scientific rejection.

      •  Do you happen to have a handy link to Searle's (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        trumpeter, Garrett, Ahianne

        views? I would say that on a day-to-day basis that science1 assumes materialism (at least as practiced by all the scientists I know), but philosophers of science sometimes come up with interesting questions or perspectives, even if they are not manifested in scientific practice.



        Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? . . . and respect the dignity of every human being.

        by Wee Mama on Wed May 21, 2014 at 01:34:35 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Alas, I know Searle from dead tree books (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Garrett, tarkangi, Ahianne, Wee Mama

          and as a very occasional contributor to NY Review of Books.  Most recently I read a book called The Rediscovery of the Mind.
          So I don"t have a link handy.

          He's best known as the proposer of the Chinese room argument against strong AI; the Wikipedia article on that should give you a flavor.

          He would agree that, in a sense, science can only study material phenomena. But there's this wrinkle: What is going on when scientists study, as they clearly can do, the physiological correlates of consciousness? All they can actually observe is the self-reporting of their experimental subjects. Those self-reports are material occurrences, mouths in bodies making sound waves in the air.

          But what allows the scientists to interpret those as self-reports is their assumption that the subjects have selves, that they are actually undergoing subjective experiences when they report them. And Searle would stoutly maintain (and I with him) that subjective experiences, however intimately they seem to be tied to material preconditions, are not themselves any sort of material entity. So scientists engaged in that particular branch of research are - whether or not their metaphysics allows them to admit it - typically engaging in  a non-materialistic assumption.

          Of course, they could consistently claim that they are only interested in the material question of what physiological states are associated with verbal reports of being conscious, and are utterly uninterested in whether the reporter actually feels anything at any time. It would be consistent, but it would probably be disingenuous.

  •  "Ought" Presupposes a Moral System / Rules. (5+ / 0-)

    Since we're a social species there are bound to be some rules, at least behavioral biases shared with some other social species.

    But the natures of societies we create might vary considerably with different moralities; I would think science can have much to say about how different sets of moralities could shape the nature of communities and society.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Wed May 21, 2014 at 12:18:27 PM PDT

    •  I think likely you're right - there are some (4+ / 0-)

      reasonable predictions that can be made for different sets of assumptions. That won't get us over the is/ought hill, but it might tell us how high the hill is, so to speak.



      Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? . . . and respect the dignity of every human being.

      by Wee Mama on Wed May 21, 2014 at 12:23:13 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  On a slightly cautionary note I have to admit that (4+ / 0-)

      sociology and psychology are not yet at the level of reliable prediction that we have for biology and physics.



      Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? . . . and respect the dignity of every human being.

      by Wee Mama on Wed May 21, 2014 at 12:28:14 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  psychology is approaching the point, though (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Wee Mama, cotterperson

        Behavioral neurobiology and cognitive science is already giving us consistently repeatable results about how exactly the brain works.

        Alas, most of us will probably not like the results . . .

        ;)

        In the end, reality always wins.

        by Lenny Flank on Wed May 21, 2014 at 02:25:35 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Which ones in particular do you think will be (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          cotterperson

          unwelcome?



          Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? . . . and respect the dignity of every human being.

          by Wee Mama on Wed May 21, 2014 at 02:26:42 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I am actually working on a diary about that . . . (7+ / 0-)

            My Introduction:

            You probably won't like this diary. You will very likely try to find every possible reason you can to conclude that while it may apply to others (especially Republicans), it doesn't apply to you. And by doing so, you will be demonstrating that the findings of neuroscience are indeed correct.  :)

            All of us like to think that we are a logical and rational creature, who has come to our belief system (whether about politics, religion, or social viewpoints) through dispassionate and detached evaluation of reality, and that we defend our positions with objective facts and evidence.

            Alas, the findings of behavioral neurology and cognitive brain science show that we are all wrong. Humans do no such thing at all. None of us. Instead, neurological research has shown that all humans tend to believe whatever our social peer group teaches us to believe, that all humans tend to make their decisions almost entirely based on emotions and only use "facts" and "logic" afterwards as rationalizations to justify what we already want to believe, and that all humans tend to support those beliefs by making up false memories and fictional frameworks and lying not only to others, but also to ourselves. And since this is the normal way that all human brains have evolved to work, all of this happens without our even being consciously aware of it happening.

            In the end, reality always wins.

            by Lenny Flank on Wed May 21, 2014 at 02:33:46 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  I look forward to reading it. (7+ / 0-)

              Amazing that such cognitively crippled creatures have untangled the mitochondrion. I do recognize though that a lot of scientific training is breaking yourself from that dire statement, "Believing is seeing."



              Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? . . . and respect the dignity of every human being.

              by Wee Mama on Wed May 21, 2014 at 02:49:29 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  science as a collective method is a way of (6+ / 0-)

                minimizing the effects of individual biases, as much as is humanly possible.  But scientists, as individuals, are no more immune to it than any other human is. Plenty of legitimate degreed scientists believe all sorts of stupid and idiotic things. Intelligence, alas, is not an inoculation against fooling oneself and seeing what one wants to see. We all have the same brain architecture, and it all works the same way. We differ only in degree--and that only in a narrow range.

                It is vitally crucially important to realize, though, that all the confabulation and confirmation bias and contrived memories we do to ourselves are NOT, repeat NOT, as in N-O-T, deliberate intentional deceptions. Quite the opposite--they are entirely unconscious, unintended and unnoticed--we do not even know that it is happening. Making up coherent stories is what the brain does, just like pumping blood is what the heart does. We are completely unaware that any of it is going on--which is why it's so easy for us to convince ourselves that it doesn't happen to us.

                In the end, reality always wins.

                by Lenny Flank on Wed May 21, 2014 at 03:19:17 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  One of the most thrilling (and anxiety provoking) (2+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  guyeda, librarisingnsf

                  experiences I had as a scientist came when my thesis advisor asked me to make a blind comparison among several samples. She told me that all the samples were the alga Pandorina and asked me to tell her what else I saw.

                  !!!

                  Happily, I did see differences among the samples, and the differences even more happily correlated with which antibody was used. But it was the most "blind" observation I made as a scientist.

                  I did have fun with my lab folk when they were testing new zip codes on some cytoskeletal protein mRNAs. I asked them to let me do the blind comparison - oh, they were spectacular! That was very satisfying.



                  Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? . . . and respect the dignity of every human being.

                  by Wee Mama on Wed May 21, 2014 at 07:23:03 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

              •  btw----it's not a handicap, it is one of the (5+ / 0-)
                Amazing that such cognitively crippled creatures have untangled the mitochondrion.
                reasons the human species has survived. On the plains of Africa in the Pleistocene, the people who survived were the people who were wired to make instant snap judgments about things--"is that noise a lion?" "is that guy from the next tribe over friendly?" "is my mother right when she says this plant is poisonous to eat?"--not the ones who took the time to consider all the evidence and make a logical conclusion. The ability to make a quick decision based on "gut feelings" was often the difference between life and death.  Today, we no longer live on that African savannah--but our brains still belong to the creatures that did, and we still think and act the same way they did.

                In the end, reality always wins.

                by Lenny Flank on Wed May 21, 2014 at 03:25:40 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  Everyone should read Daniel Kahneman's (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  Wee Mama

                  Thinking Fast and Slow. Basically, we have two modes of thought: a fast one which works reasonably well when dealing with everyday events and which doesn't tie up too many of the brain's resources when making decisions, but which sometimes, when posed with a difficult question, pretends that it can be answered by answering an easier question; and a slow one, which usually gives more accurate results but pretty much demands that we drop everything else we're doing while it operates.

                  Unfortunately when smart and educated people get crazy ideas they can come up with plausibly truthy arguments. -- Andrew F Cockburn

                  by ebohlman on Thu May 22, 2014 at 12:06:40 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

            •  Kosmail me the link when you publish - I wouldn't (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              cotterperson, Ahianne, PeterHug

              want to miss it. Thanks in advance.



              Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? . . . and respect the dignity of every human being.

              by Wee Mama on Wed May 21, 2014 at 02:50:08 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

    •  Exactly (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Wee Mama, joegoldstein

      Science, in the first sense, is about making predictions. Certainly it is plausible to imagine a scientific theory making a prediction that "If society does this thing, these other things will be the result." Do we like the other things? Are they at least acceptable outcomes? If not, perhaps we ought not to do the first thing.

      Science can certainly make predictions such as "If we treat our brothers and sisters badly, they will suffer, and take that suffering out on others, perhaps even on us."

      I agree that science can not uncover ultimate meaning. Fortunately for us, "ultimate meaning" is something anyone can experience. Everything means exactly what it is. This moment is this moment, no more, no less.

      It is only the ego's desire for control that makes us search for more meaning than that. But there is nothing more than the present moment. Our search for meaning involves imagination, not perception. Perhaps our imaginations let us uncover some relative truth, but use of imagination is movement away from ultimate truth.

      If we want absolute truth, the only place to seek it is in the present moment. If we want relative truth, the best tool we have is science.

      •  That's where (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Wee Mama

        science can fall apart - without an objective way to experiment, you can't really know.

        One of the brightest people ever, Isaac Asimov, saw the difficulties there, and tried to deal with them (See "Hari Seldon"), but could only do thought experiments because sapients are notoriously hard to do controlled experiments on.

        I am not religious, and did NOT say I enjoyed sects.

        by trumpeter on Wed May 21, 2014 at 02:42:42 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Not that hard, actually. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Wee Mama

          Plenty of experiments regarding human nature have been done, for example see the wiki article on experimental economics. Fascinating stuff!

          •  There are many, (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Wee Mama

            but they have their limits.

            Who is your control group, for example.

            I am not religious, and did NOT say I enjoyed sects.

            by trumpeter on Wed May 21, 2014 at 04:36:11 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Many social experiments have controls. (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Ahianne, Wee Mama

              But I think I see the source of confusion here. I believe I hear you asking, "How can we test theories about societies when we can not experiment on societies?" Is that the gist of your question, here?

              But this is not how most science works. We have theories about black holes, but no one has ever seen a black hole up close. We have theories about ecosystems, not only can you not point at an ecosystem, which is a concept, but you certainly can not experiment on whole ecosystems and still maintain a control group, right?

              We have theories which let us predict the global climate, which is another intangible concept, and certainly not something we can ever experiment on and have a control. We have only one climate! So how do we ever test our theories?

              The scientific method works through careful thought about the possible consequences of theories, and careful experimental design that tests small, specific pieces of what the overall theory predicts. No theory is ever "proven" through this method, but eventually we can say, "We have tested this theory in many different ways, and it has made correct predictions in each case we could think to test. Here are the cases and conditions in which this theory has made accurate predictions. Use it with whatever confidence you care to assign it based on that."

              Either that, or the theory is shown to make incorrect predictions. This may or may not result in the theory being discarded, after all, we know that Newton's theory of gravity makes incorrect predictions, while so far, Einstein's has not. Yet engineers use Newton's theory far more often than they use Einstein's. Because we know exactly where, when, and how that theory fails, when we can use it, and when we must resort to Einstein's much more difficult equations.

              So, people make theories about human nature, or society, and those theories make predictions, "if you do this, then this will happen." So we design experiments where we do the thing, and observe whether we see the results we expected. We also observe a number of cases where we do not do the thing, and this is called the control group.

              Just as we do not need to experiment directly on black holes, or ecosystems, or climates in order to formulate and test theories about them, we do not need to experiment on whole societies in order to test theories about societies.

              •  Your point is valid, (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Wee Mama

                but only in a relatively limited way.
                We can model many things, and get fair approximations, but to get really solid, reliable answers, we need field data.  Even cosmological or ecological models need solid field data.

                And data about sentients is always unreliable, because sooner or later they become aware that an experiment is happening,and react to that knowledge.  And that skews the data.

                To really know, we'd have to have separate worlds, each identical, and very carefully test them by, say, dropping in bits of data to one, and seeing how it diverged from the other(s).  As it is, we have to guess a lot, and being a part of the experiment skews our understanding/desire for understanding of the results.

                See where I'm coming from?

                I am not religious, and did NOT say I enjoyed sects.

                by trumpeter on Thu May 22, 2014 at 07:55:07 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  Not all science is done like that (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  Wee Mama

                  One way of performing science is to examine data we already have. We don't need to do anything new, we just look at the data. When we look at stars, we can not change them, we can not take one set of stars and do something to them while maintaining a control group of stars we do nothing to.

                  Sometimes we do not need to perform any active experiments to test our theories. We simply look to see whether the data we have collected agrees with our theories.

                  We can, for example, look at various aspects of the thousands of cultures all around the world, and come up with theories to explain the observed correlations. Potential falsification comes from the data we have already collected, not from the results of an experiment. Obviously, disciplines like cosmology must necessarily proceed in this way.

                  I do see where you are coming from. Truly robust theories predicting the results of perturbations to entire societies will have to wait until we have collected more observations. Remember, though, it is the collection of observations, not experiment per se, that advances science. Experiments are just one way to collect observations. Plenty of scientific disciplines advance primarily through the collection of observations rather than direct experiment, simply because it is impossible to experiment on the subject in question.

                  •  Experiments (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    Wee Mama

                    are, in my experience, a controlled way of gathering specific data.  And the more complex the subject and the study, the more and better data is required.

                    And that's the foundation of my quibble.  We can approximate with the data we have, but we can never really get far past that without a lot of time and input.

                    And that's probably why this issue interests/irritates me - we have so many quacks who claim to have the answer.

                    I am not religious, and did NOT say I enjoyed sects.

                    by trumpeter on Thu May 22, 2014 at 12:08:48 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  That's pretty much how you know it's a quack (1+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:
                      Wee Mama

                      If it quacks out, "I've got the answer!" it's almost certainly a quack.

                      If, on the other hand, it says, "My theory makes these specific predictions. No primary data I looked at in my research contradicts these predictions, so I published. Some science guys looked through other sets of data than I did, and they found the same correlations that my theory predicts. Other folks looked at my theory, noted different predictions that it makes, and looked through the primary data for these other correlations. They found them. None of us have performed an experiment. We performed research." then it is most likely a scientist, not a quack.

                      Some of the most illuminating "experiments" ever done, were never done. Would you deny the value of Einstein gedankenexperiments? I feel like you are making the definition of "experiment" too rigid.

                      Cosmology is a very complex subject, and yet, for the most part, the only sorts of experiments we can do are observations. We think up new ways of observing, or we go back over our old observations looking for new things, or we just plod along making more and more of the same  sorts of observations but we never experiment on stars, galaxies, and universes.

                      In sociology, we have a theory that says "When a human culture develops agriculture and animal husbandry, and then experiences prolonged drought and famine, it becomes violent, rigid, and hierarchical. It then exports this culture through warfare and conquest to the cultures around it. Even if they successfully resist, they become violent, rigid, and hierarchical."

                      It's more developed than that, of course, with specific ways of defining and measuring things like violence, rigidity and hierarchy. Like most theories in sociology, it is backed up through research, not direct experiment. But with thousands of human cultures throughout history, and observations taken from thousands of person-years of archaeological research. I think it is a fairly robust theory with a lot of explanative and predictive power.

                      I think that what we can agree on is that sociology, psychology, and related fields are about the softest of the soft sciences. Cosmology, which relies almost entirely on observation just like sociology does, is still considered a hard science.

                      Why? Because stars don't know how to lie. And researches have little motivation to lie to themselves about the things they see stars doing. So maybe the limits aren't in science. Maybe the limits are in us.

                      •  Well... (1+ / 0-)
                        Recommended by:
                        Wee Mama

                        Einstein's gedankenexperiments* were eventually backed up by more thorough and rigorous testing, and until that happened, they just suggested some really cool things to later physicists.

                        My degrees are in history and Anthropology.  I know somewhat of what happens when you theorize with too little data and/or too many perceptual filters. Oy.  Look at all of the postulations and backfill about Masada, for example.

                        I just like to actually have some certainty, and know that while you can make some predictions even with the really rough social sciences we have now, it's still very rough and approximate.  And I find that frustrating.

                        *a word that makes my spell check go bananas.:)

                        I am not religious, and did NOT say I enjoyed sects.

                        by trumpeter on Thu May 22, 2014 at 12:52:02 PM PDT

                        [ Parent ]

  •  I agree (4+ / 0-)

    But I think that there are times that the results of the method can inform our world views.

    For example, I know I cannot physically move my couch out of my house.  But with the help of another person it can be moved.  Thus I observe that cooperation can accomplish more than trying to be the rugged individualist.  And if I verbally abuse that person that I recruit to help me move my couch, the task has a chance of not getting done.

    Thus my world view that "cooperation is more productive than isolation/abuse"...

    At some point the current state of science (however you define it) reaches a limit.  But I feel that is more of an engineering obstacle than any real barrier  But there may be some real barriers - it's very possible that there is no way to pierce the Plank length, resolve the uncertainty principle, understand what came before the big bang, or understand why the universe exists in the first place.

    But the only way to have any chance of knowing these limits  is to keep banging on those doors.

  •  Awesome scale of the universe animation! (4+ / 0-)

    Here.



    Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? . . . and respect the dignity of every human being.

    by Wee Mama on Wed May 21, 2014 at 12:20:53 PM PDT

  •  The question of science's relationship (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    gsenski

    to questions of human morality are addressed in Sam Harris's The Moral Landscape.  I have not read this particular book by Harris, but have read reviews of it.  It certainly re-opens a door that this diarist seems to want to close.

    Plus, there is a part II needed here.  If not science, then WHAT is the source for morality?

    And last but not least, as Carl Sagan said, "If you want your life to have meaning, go do something meaningful."

  •  I think science can tell us about morality (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Wee Mama, Free Jazz at High Noon

    although that science that does (evolutionary psychology) is largely full of hacks.

    Dawkins is to atheism as Rand is to personal responsibility. uid 52583 lol

    by terrypinder on Wed May 21, 2014 at 12:58:57 PM PDT

    •  I think science can tell us some things about (6+ / 0-)

      the ontogeny of the moral sense, but it doesn't confer the authoritative moral force of it.

      In an example that may have some relevance I have been interested to see people's reactions when I point out that when slavery was first developed it was a moral advance. Up to that point, when you conquered "them," "they" clearly weren't human so everyone was killed. At some point someone had the idea, well, they may not be us, but they might be useful, and allowed some to live. The final evolution to realizing that everyone is human and everyone deserves rights took millennia (indeed, is not complete today or there would be no human trafficking).



      Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? . . . and respect the dignity of every human being.

      by Wee Mama on Wed May 21, 2014 at 01:07:00 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I think these views are better cast in terms (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Wee Mama, matching mole

    of Naturalism.

    Methodological Naturalism is pretty much identifiable with the scientific method, while Philosophical Naturalism, or Ontological Naturalism, is the belief that the physical world is all there is.

    To practice science one needs to adhere to Methodological Naturalism, but not necessarily to Philosophical Naturalism. That is why many scientist are also religious.

    Scientism is generally used in negative terms. For instance the view that science can answer questions of moratily can be characterized as scientistic.

    •  The sometimes negative associations with (4+ / 0-)

      "scientism" was one of the reasons that I used science2 for the world view. I agree, there are a number of names that have been used.



      Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? . . . and respect the dignity of every human being.

      by Wee Mama on Wed May 21, 2014 at 01:21:19 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  How do you *know* the physical world... (0+ / 0-)

      is all there is?

      "For him who has conquered the mind, the mind is the best of friends; but for one who has failed to do so, his mind will remain the greatest enemy." -Bhagavad Gita

      by joegoldstein on Wed May 21, 2014 at 01:46:56 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I don't think implicate order is saying that it is (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Ahianne

        The question of how people go about finding and committing to their world views is a big, fuzzy one. This is a good discussion of them as held - I'll keep looking for sources on how people choose/align themselves with them.



        Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? . . . and respect the dignity of every human being.

        by Wee Mama on Wed May 21, 2014 at 01:54:22 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I didn't phrase that well... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Wee Mama

          What I meant to say is: "How does anyone know that physical reality is all there is?"

          I'll answer my own question :)

          I don't think you can. I think that it is one of the a priori assumptions that science2 (I don't know how you made that super script) makes.

          "For him who has conquered the mind, the mind is the best of friends; but for one who has failed to do so, his mind will remain the greatest enemy." -Bhagavad Gita

          by joegoldstein on Thu May 22, 2014 at 12:23:47 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  Pretty much the same way you *know* that god exist (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Wee Mama

        You read about it, think, discuss with other people then draw what you think is the best conclusion.

        •  What do you mean by "god"? (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Wee Mama

          I can give you an example of non-physical reality: consciousness. You may claim that it is a product of physical reality, but I say that physical reality is a product of consciousness.

          Neither of us can "prove" the other. Science1 is simply a way of looking at our reality, a method a means. Science2's dogma claims that physical reality is primary to consciousness. I don't believe this to be the case.

          "For him who has conquered the mind, the mind is the best of friends; but for one who has failed to do so, his mind will remain the greatest enemy." -Bhagavad Gita

          by joegoldstein on Thu May 22, 2014 at 12:30:50 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I have a friend who is an atheist who believes (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            joegoldstein

            that both numbers and ethical imperatives are non-physical realities.



            Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? . . . and respect the dignity of every human being.

            by Wee Mama on Thu May 22, 2014 at 04:57:15 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Fascinating... (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Wee Mama, Kascade Kat

              Yes, one does not have to "believe in God" to question the thought that physical reality is all there is.

              In fact, I find that the entire "atheist v. believer" thing tends to get in the way of discussions of this nature.

              I've mentioned before here on dKos that I think Richard Dawkins views are rather narrowminded, as are the late Christopher Hitchens.

              They seem to have issues (as many people do) with Christianity and they extrapolate this out to what I believe is a rather disingenuous discussion on their part of what might constitute a greater reality.

              Some of the work, for instance, of Robert Monroe is extremely interesting. I won't get into my own, personal research as it's entirely anecdotal, but Monroe's work suggests mechanisms that cannot be solely physical, at least not how we understand and define physical.

              The work of Brian Josephson (winner of the Nobel prize in physics and creator of the eponymous Josephson's Junction) also questions the dogma of Science2. He has been treated extremely poorly by the general (and quite dogmatic) Science2 community. He's very brave, IMHO, and in quite good company, if one actually looks at the history of Science1.

              My interest is in the true nature of reality, no matter where that takes me and no matter who's dogma I might step on.

              "For him who has conquered the mind, the mind is the best of friends; but for one who has failed to do so, his mind will remain the greatest enemy." -Bhagavad Gita

              by joegoldstein on Thu May 22, 2014 at 05:53:09 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

      •  You test it. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Wee Mama, joegoldstein

        You look for exceptions, and then test those to see if they are repeatable and falsifiable.

        I am not religious, and did NOT say I enjoyed sects.

        by trumpeter on Wed May 21, 2014 at 02:50:12 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  A most excellent and impressive job! (6+ / 0-)

    Even when one stays within the framework of scientific research there is such a multiplicity of approaches to inquiry as to make these naive claims about the "truth of science" laughable.

    Science is also pushing the boundaries of established knowledge in ways that raise some serious questions about the supreme validity of the traditional reductionist approach. The developments in chaos and complexity are one striking example.

    Not unlike out ancestors sitting around the fire in a cave, humans are still faced with a vast unknown.    

  •  Nice diary, Wee Mama... (4+ / 0-)

    I always appreciate your thoughts.

    "For him who has conquered the mind, the mind is the best of friends; but for one who has failed to do so, his mind will remain the greatest enemy." -Bhagavad Gita

    by joegoldstein on Wed May 21, 2014 at 01:39:10 PM PDT

  •  Nice... I might quote this pretty soon. (n/t) (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Wee Mama, Garrett
  •  as I often put the same point: (6+ / 0-)

    Science can tell us HOW to make nuclear weapons.

    But science cannot tell us WHETHER to make them.

    In the end, reality always wins.

    by Lenny Flank on Wed May 21, 2014 at 02:23:09 PM PDT

  •  There's also the third: (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Wee Mama, guyeda

    The actual work.  Science is as human an enterprise as any other, fraught with leaps of logic, battling stakeholders and their reputations, bupkis, expenses, serendipity, publication pressure, and lots and lots of tedium, error and brain freeze.  If there's any adherence to the "method" in science's day to day conduct, its largely in spirit rather than by the book.  

    If anyone takes anything away from the seventh episode of Cosmos ("The Clean Room"), it should be that Clair Cameron Patterson spent five years painstakingly refining a single experiment.  

    •  There is an entire genre of lab stories, accounts (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      rduran, guyeda

      of things that go wrong mysteriously in the lab and have to be unraveled. One from my own: we used to do many kinds of immunofluorescence, on different proteins and in different cells. For some of them we were the best in the world. Then, suddenly in lab meeting, person after person would say, "Well, I could see that the cells were well fixed and the protein was in the right place, but it faded so fast I couldn't count/photograph it." Since there were so many different cells and proteins involved, the answer had to lie elsewhere.

      I asked my RA (a dynamite young man; he used to race Porsches) to sort it out. After a few days talking to everyone and taking notes, he came back and said, "Well, there's only one factor in common, but I can't see how it could matter. The only shared thing is using the new absolute alcohol for fixing cells. That couldn't do it, could it?"

      I mulled, and pointed out that absolute alcohol can be made several different ways - could he find out how the old and the new ones were done? He did: the old one had the azeotrope cleared with hexane, the new one with PEG. The old company provided extensive documentation that it was just alcohol; the new company assured us it was pure but gave no data.

      Side by side comparison, and the old alcohol gave images that were rock solid. The new alcohol faded like fireflies on a damp night. We went back and bought every remaining bottle of the old alcohol and labled it "Use ONLY for immunofluorescence."



      Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? . . . and respect the dignity of every human being.

      by Wee Mama on Wed May 21, 2014 at 06:46:57 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  As an engineer and practicing Catholic* (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Wee Mama

    I appreciate this discussion.

    In my religious life, I've always been drawn to the mystics, and I've had a few life-changing religious experiences of my own that defy scientific explanation.

    In The Varieties of Religious Experience,William James calls these "noetic" experiences because the person having the experience feels that she has learned something from the experience that is normally hidden.

    Of course, another characteristic is ineffability - there is no way to put the experience into words. For myself I rarely talk about these experiences, and almost never outside my faith community, where I at least have a shared vocabulary.

    I will say that my own experiences have given me the certain belief that God exists, and cares for me in a deeply personal way. They gave me hope during a dark time in my life.  They made me a much less self-centered person who tries to be more loving and giving with others.

    I suppose some day, someone will put all of this down to misfiring neurons in a certain region of the brain. But if they do, my most fervent prayer is that they figure out how to make these experiences happen for more of us.

    Because these experiences, found in every major religion, do seem to put people in touch with some fundamental truths about our interconnectedness, in a way they can't minimize or ignore.

    It would transform the world.

    *in the lineage of St. Francis, St. Claire, St. Vincent de Paul and St. Dorothy Day, NOT Santorum

    "He not busy being born is busy dying" -- Bob Dylan

    by Kascade Kat on Thu May 22, 2014 at 04:30:52 PM PDT

    •  I think that there is an experiential component (0+ / 0-)

      for many more people than is commonly realized. And even if they found a neural substrate, so what? There is a neural substrate in the optical system by which we perceive apples, but the apples are still real without us.



      Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? . . . and respect the dignity of every human being.

      by Wee Mama on Thu May 22, 2014 at 05:05:48 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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