Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Thought thinking itself, continued...

Essentially, for the scientist, whatever things have in common is strictly contingent and coincidental; "law" is really a Platonistic misnomer for classes of phenomena that behave similarly--"generalization" is the closest that modern science hopes to achieve. And the consistent scientist never develops too high a respect for generalizations, lest that respect interfere with his or her willingness to scrap the theory upon the first indubitable falsification.

Modern science also has the characteristic of flattening the reality that it observes. The atoms of atomism are never greater or smaller; they simply are--and the advent of relativity theory and quantum physics has not changed this basic characteristic of modern science (the claims of some that quantum physics makes positivism any friendlier toward religion strike me as a lot of blustering). Modern science is inherently anti-hierarchic, not only because "hierarchy" involves notions of authority inimical to the skeptical approach, but because reductionistic scientism tends to break down all of the ontological qualities of "greater" and "lesser;" "micro" or "macro." Scientists do not play favorites with observable phenomena; one tick on the chart has absolutely the same importance as the next. Scientific wisdom has nothing to do with which data have been collected; only how much. Modern science is qualitatively blind; only quantities remain.

It is in this flattening spirit that the scientistic thinker appreciates the celebrated Pauline statement, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:28). Modern uses of this text celebrate the absence of distinctions more than they do the "Jesus Christ" part. But beyond that there is little in common between the Scriptural and scientific sense of unity; nowhere in Scripture, least of all in Paul, is there preached the flat, numerical, distinterested equality of the scientific method.

In short, modern science has several tendencies vis-a-vis the perception of the world. Before it formulates any theories of 'laws', it approaches reality with absolute skepticism, because reality is methodologically treated as disconnected, disorderly, and qualitatively undifferentiated. It is only in the face of absolute skepticism that a slightly less absolute certainty can be hammered out, via falsifiable theories, while eliminating, as far as possible, the human factor--our psychological determinations.

Thus science is precisely so attractive because it requires so little actual reason or free will to execute. There is, ideally, no standard of morality or asceticism required for the scientist to correctly perform the requisite duties; the protocols of the method take care of themselves. Robots can replace most of the work of scientific investigators--and they do.

But the scientific tendencies to perceive the world as chaotic are not in themselves scientific conclusions; they are methodological strategies, buttresses against all possible error. Thus science is, in a very limited fashion, infallible--where done correctly, with strict respect to the question it asks, it eliminates psychologic blind spots; it is like an epistemic laser: brilliantly bright, but excessively narrow. But where the blind spots occur are not in the path of the laser but in the vast area that it excludes; it is a tunnel vision which, for purposes beyond data collection and generalization, is legally blind.

Yet it is not necessarily true that philosophy is the converse of a laser--broad, yet hazy. For if modern science has a fundamental epistemic principle in its data collection, philosophy has a fundamental principle in the acknowledgment of the analogy of being.

More later...

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