Sunday, November 14, 2010

Myth of Science Continued

“The Personified and The Particular are arch-demons to advocates of a ley-like, nomothetic approach to knowing. Scientists teach their intellectual children at a early age to be wary of the wily Personification. Should Personification appear—in any of its several guises of animism, anthropomorphism, and projection—it should be treated as an evil, to be avoided or stamped out. The Particular is also not to be trusted. It can mislead. Those in the charge of nomothetic science quickly learn to banish The Particular by immediately labeling it, then ignoring it. These anathematizing labels include: merely anecdotal, a single case, an n of one, a single data point, an uncontrolled observation, a single instance, an exception, a suggestive indication, an interesting possibility to be followed up by more careful study.” And later, “Is there a form of understanding, of knowing that can occur only through familiar, intimate contact with the object of knowing—through a deep and sustained encounter with a particular?” (Braud, The Ley and the Labyrinth
This is the clearest distinction one can draw between what has been misapprehended as the opposing spheres of the scientific and the mythological viewpoints. I say “misapprehended” because, of course, science is in the sense we’ve already defined a mythologizing process, and myth is derived from experience - psychological if not physical - in a way which makes the modeling processes used in science useful for analyzing it, as well. Cassirer’s Philosophy of Symbolic Forms explores this distinction clearly, but did not see to seek to find their unity, how they apply one to the other.

Science models, myth generates narrative. We try to remove the scientist from science, and say that, should we still see the fingerprints of the scientist in his work, then he has done us all a disservice. Is there science without scientists? Of course not. Science, derived from and used to represent nature, is, yet again, a form of mythology. But there’s still an important distinction to be made between a model which can be tested, and a narrative, which cannot.

Thinking about this now, it seems the distinction is one of iteration and function. Iteration: the scientific method depends on the ability to repeat an experiment. Experiences which seem mythical are by their very nature seemingly unique. They cannot be reproduced or repeated. You cannot ask that lightning to strike the same place twice. (Though of course there’s no reason to assume that it can’t.)

Some of the functional axioms of the mythology of science - especially that of pure physics - make it quite dissimilar from other forms of mythology. Mathematics and formal logic too are able to unearth fact and truth axiomatically, without an actor, and serve as the requisite tools for a mythology unlike any previously known to Western Civilization. (Though let's not suppose that there is one universal set of axioms that can be applied to all of mathematics- see Godel's incompleteness theorum.) It is a myth so uniquely suited to modelling the empirical world, and of removing and reducing the consciousness of the minds in which it occurs to nothing, that we have almost completely lost sight that it is still a mythology at work. We mustn't lose sight of the representation inherent in all models posited by science, or of the removal of the subject so as to derive any clearer view of a world, which of course requires a mind to call it into existence.
"The world is my representation" is, like the axioms of Euclid, a proposition which everyone must recognize as true as soon as he understands it, although it is not a proposition that everyone understands as soon as he hears it. To have brought this proposition to consciousness and to have connected it with the problem of the relation of the ideal to the real, in other words, of the world in the head to the world outside of the head, constitutes, together with the problem of moral freedom, the distinctive character of the moderns. (Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, Part I)
Of course, there is not in truth one "myth of science" but in fact many, countless myths supported on the back of a few basic axioms and suppositions, and many of them are anything if not aware of - or at least burdened by - the lurking shadow of the subject, of the hall of mirrors or infinite regress posed by consciousness and its own self awareness. As was referenced in an earlier equally rambling post, science is facing its own post-modern crisis, much as genetic science is, now that it is becoming increasingly clear that genes are more like holograms than a simple straightforward linear "code," with one line of code saying "blue eyes," another saying "red head." If only it were so simple! Even if Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle is frequently misunderstood by laypeople (such as myself), as a thought experiment, it poses the useful insight that experiments cannot be conducted free of bias and perception. Theories of cognitive science that don't depend entirely on underlying strata of materialistic or positivist myth also are burdened with similar levels of uncertainty.

This too further muddles the unity and distinction between mythology and science, and narrative and model. Can we safely say they are all one and the same? No. But can we untangle them and say they are separate? Again, the answer is no.

More questions. Fewer answers.

Order The Immanence of Myth to see where this inquiry lead.


  1. Anonymous4:46 AM

    I wanted to back to this, having had some recent Twitter points relating to this topic. There are so many ways I could take this, but I'll start with a few points relating to our original Twitter topic.

    I agree, science is in many ways mythology. Yes, it is ultimately impossible to abstract the scientist from science. That's true on so many levels, from the nature and motives of conducting an experiment, the selective data published, the assumed axioms of the scientist, assumed axioms of the discipline, and even assumed axioms embedded within the scientific method.

    However, I feel there is a need still to try and disassociate scientist from the scientific principles and data. While science can never model 'objective reality', it does express an intersubjective metaphor based on chosen mathematical or logical models. Thus, the reason to separate science from scientist is to remove incongruence in a given scientific metaphor.

    When incongruence in the metaphor of a particular scientific principle is removed, it becomes a pure 'intersubjective' expression -- a pure perspective, so to speak. And while it doesn't describe Absolute Truth, it still is the highest level attainable by any narrative. And that in and of itself I feel provides value to humanity.

  2. I mostly agree with you - though of course the idea of model dependence is an important one. That is that there will likely never be ONE model to describe any given phenomenon, but rather multiple models which provide different perspectives- consistent answers based on the axioms of the model, but not in regard to all possibilities. Yes?

    There is also this "...that in and of itself I feel provides value to humanity." It can, and it has, but it has also done incomparable harm. But this is a more cultural side of the discussion, in terms of how the scientific method is employed. The best science, I've always thought - and it's not like I'm an expert here - is that which occurs purely through the spirit of exploration and creativity. And uses might be found for it later. That the Pentagon is better equipped to fund scientific research than anyone else isn't "Science's" fault. Sadly nothing seems to work human ingenuity more than the desire to master, conquer, and destroy everyone "else."

  3. Anonymous2:04 PM

    I do agree - there can never be a single model (or narrative) for reality -- that points back to our earlier discussion where you pointed out multiple 'monomyths'. At best we can gain consistency with the chosen axioms.

    That said, I DO feel there is an overarching 'non-dual' principle of reality, though each model/narrative only provides a limited expression of this.

    I also agree in the harm that can and does arise when intentionally propagating any model/myth above all the Pentagon...not just in directing scientific research but also in assuming, adopting, and promoting a singular war narrative.

    Of course the models used in current science, like you mention, tends to factor consciousness out of the picture. That's one reason I feel our technological development, including military advances, have FAR outpaced our psychological maturity.

    I'm not a mathematician (although Integral Math from Ken Wilber does serve a lot of my foundation), but as a thought exercise, I contemplate what our world would be if our mathematics were based on different principles..for example, if we assumed '1=-1' instead of '1=1'? What different types of development would we have gone through? Perhaps a much more counterbalanced, harmonious science would have unfolded...



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