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Science, Subjectivity, And Paradigms


WalkerW

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I told Kevin a little while ago that I had a forthcoming NT Daily article on science, subjectivity, and paradigms. Here it is:

“I believe the intellectual life of the whole of western society is increasingly being split into two polar groups.”

So lamented the British physicist and novelist C.P. Snow in his 1959 Rede Lecture titled “The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution.” The separate camps he spoke of were the humanities and the physical sciences.

It is often toted today that we live in the Age of Science, resting on the erroneous assumption that science was not practiced before the Renaissance or perhaps even the Enlightenment.

The narrow confinement of the word “science” to the biological or physical realms is a relatively recent English development that began in the late-1800s.

Yet, in Dutch today we can still speak of kunstwetenschap (“art science”): an unthinkable English combination. Or in German die Geisteswissenschaften (literally “spirit sciences”).

Before the mid-19th century, science could be equated with or encompassed by natural philosophy. Science was, in the words of Nobel laureate Percy W. Bridgman, “nothing more than doing your damnedest with your mind, no holds barred.”

The physical sciences are often seen as the standard by which all ideas and philosophies are to be measured — the ultimate epistemic and moral authority. This brand of thinking infected the elite and intelligentsia of the early-20th century, blossoming into a popular acceptance of (among other things) eugenics.

This love affair with scientific efficiency manifested itself in my own field of study in the form of Taylor’s scientific management: a heavily centralized, mechanistic and dehumanizing approach to labor.

Over the course of the past century, however, the tide has slowly turned. Intelligence is no longer defined merely by problem-solving or task-oriented faculties, but also by one’s emotional capabilities.

Human motivation does not rest solely on external, carrot-and-stick incentives, but intrinsic rewards as well.

The most important philosophical event of the 20th century was the collapse of logical positivism and its verification principle, which ushered in an academic revival of metaphysics. Quantum mechanics has forever changed the face of materialism and the meaning of space, time and matter.

Reductionist theories eventually give way to what philosopher Tyler Burge calls “neurobabble,” which “produces the illusion of understanding,” yet does little to “aid, much less provide, psychological explanation.”

In attempts to be objective, many forget that scientific theories are laced with concepts, vocabularies and interpretations saturated with subjective meaning.

As psychiatrist and medical researcher Norman Doidge recognizes, “In fact, it’s probably the case that what is most certain in our lives is our subjective experience. So, the notion of modern science as having to always be on the side of the objective may be a serious miscalculation and the attempts to better understand the subjective may actually be the way science ultimately redeems itself.”

This shift in paradigm recognizes religion and science are not necessarily exclusive, reason and emotion actually complete each other, and the objective and subjective always overlap.

In other words, it recognizes that humans are the ones doing the experiments.

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You have to read some Nagel.

My siggy is a place to start.

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You have to read some Nagel.

My siggy is a place to start.

That is actually the only work by Nagel that I've read. When I was looking more closely at Steven C. Meyer and other ID proponents, I came across Nagel's endorsement of Meyer's book Signature in the Cell. I ended up reading "What Is It Like to Be a Bat?" because of this inquiry.

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As I see it, it's not a question of the subjective VERSUS the objective- they are just two points of view which we can have at different times about different things.

The points of view are governed by our language- we can either speak of how things appear to us individually ("I am hungry"- subjective; "I know the Book of Mormon is true"- subjective) or we can speak of things we all can observe independently and verify- ("There are penguins in Antarctica"- objective)

Statements we all can verify may be interesting, but they don't give meaning to our lives.

We live our lives in the "subjective" mode- in sentences starting with the word "I" or variations thereof.

It is curious to me how people can get so confused about such a simple distinction. Many think that some archeological discovery for example (objective) could cause them personally to believe (subjective) that something is "true" when in fact there are always reasons to doubt objective observations- or really what that observation means.

Would any archeological discovery "prove" that, say the Bible is doctrinally "true"? Suppose it were possible to absolutely prove scientifically that the "true cross" was found beyond any possible doubt, or perhaps that the Shroud of Turin was the actual shroud of Jesus of Nazareth.

Would that prove that he was the Savior and took his sins upon us and we will therefore be able to return to our Father?

Of course it wouldn't prove that- because we can only know that "subjectively"- inside of us- within us- within our hearts.

Objective observation ultimately has nothing to do with how those observations affect us- THAT is what is important- the SIGNIFICANCE we ourselves find in what we see and observe- THAT is what has "importance" to us.

It's really very simple!

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I don't believe that we are ever ONLY subjective or objective: but rather we are constantly applying BOTH to everything we focus our attention upon. And even when we are apparently not focused on anything our subconscious is constantly obtaining data objectively and subjectively from our surroundings.

The only part that can be shared, however, is the objective; the empirical; the subjective is metaphysical and cannot be shared, only expressed. It cannot be demonstrated or shown.

Those who only treasure the objective because of its replicability and denigrate the subjective because of its imaginative character are denying at least half of what makes human thought unique and possible....

(edit spelling)

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Agreed.

“Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”

Albert Einstein

It's rather annoying that people take this quote so out of context. Einsteins point in this letter was never to endorse religious thinking as theists practice it. In the same letter he wrote:

"The word god is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this"

He valued faith, sure. He was a pantheist, and viewed the universe as full of meaning. This is why he disagreed with Qauntum mechanics, the very theory he paved the way for (and he was wrong to do so). To think that he was endorsing theistic religious thinking in that quote is to be dishonest.

Unless of course you are advocating pantheism, in which case I have no qualms.

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As I see it, it's not a question of the subjective VERSUS the objective- they are just two points of view which we can have at different times about different things.

The points of view are governed by our language- we can either speak of how things appear to us individually ("I am hungry"- subjective; "I know the Book of Mormon is true"- subjective) or we can speak of things we all can observe independently and verify- ("There are penguins in Antarctica"- objective)

Statements we all can verify may be interesting, but they don't give meaning to our lives.

We live our lives in the "subjective" mode- in sentences starting with the word "I" or variations thereof.

It is curious to me how people can get so confused about such a simple distinction. Many think that some archeological discovery for example (objective) could cause them personally to believe (subjective) that something is "true" when in fact there are always reasons to doubt objective observations- or really what that observation means.

Would any archeological discovery "prove" that, say the Bible is doctrinally "true"? Suppose it were possible to absolutely prove scientifically that the "true cross" was found beyond any possible doubt, or perhaps that the Shroud of Turin was the actual shroud of Jesus of Nazareth.

Would that prove that he was the Savior and took his sins upon us and we will therefore be able to return to our Father?

Of course it wouldn't prove that- because we can only know that "subjectively"- inside of us- within us- within our hearts.

Objective observation ultimately has nothing to do with how those observations affect us- THAT is what is important- the SIGNIFICANCE we ourselves find in what we see and observe- THAT is what has "importance" to us.

It's really very simple!

But you only ever show that subjectivity is important to us. It's a stretch from there to claim that our subjective experiences describes reality. It would be like saying that because I can not see ultraviolet light, it must not exist. Or because I can't experience quantum spin, it must not be happening.

If you are going to describe what is real to YOU, then by all means, use subjective means. In that case, the giant lobsters chasing a schizophrenic patient around the city, are indeed real. But we don't have to believe that aliens *actually* abducted that old lady, or that the mentally ills lobster hallucination really occurred (outside his own brain).

However, if we want to talk about how the universe actually works, then subjectivity will be of no help. That's not to say its not valuable, it just doesn't get us any closer to true answers. It's not subjectivity that invented modern society, but objective science.

If you want to modify your definition of science to include subjective experience, fine. But that doesn't mean that we need to take the conclusions of "Art science" as seriously as we take the conclusion of biology.

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Eldwynn:

I've never claimed that Einstein was a theist.

Religion encompasses far more than just God.

Plus his statement is still true.

Religion is the motivator for action, and science is the how it is done.

If you define religion as subjective drive for meaning, then I could agree with you. That is not how a lot of people define religion, and when Einstein (or you) did it, I think many theists misinterpreted it (which is his own fault).

I feel a subjective twinge of awe every time I comprehend the trillions of cells in my body. It drives me to understand them. If I were to call this religious or spiritual though, would be misleading in the way we define the terms.

Einstein did the same thing when he spoke of God. Few atheists take issue with pantheism- but I think it was unwise of Einstein to use "god" because he meant something so very different.

So sure, his statement is true, after we plug in his definitions. But most people don't plug in HIS definitions, and use it to support the idea that Einstein found religion (as in, Judaism, or Christianity) to be equally important as Science. He did not. There's a good reason why the Jewish community hated him and wanted him to go back to Germany.

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I don't believe that we are ever ONLY subject or objective: but rather we are constantly applying BOTH to everything we focus our attention upon. And even when we are apparently not focused on anything our subconscious is constantly obtaining data objectively and subjectively from our surroundings.

The only part that can be shared, however, is the objective; the empirical; the subjective is metaphysical and cannot be shared, only expressed. It cannot be demonstrated or shown.

Those who only treasure the objective because of its replicability and denigrate the subjective because of its imaginative character are denying at least half of what makes human thought unique and possible....

The only thing I would take issue with is relatively minor I guess- it is the idea that we can "obtain data objectively".

All the observations we make are "subjective" when we make them- if we agree that we both see the same thing- that gives it a degree of "objectivity"- but if hundreds observe what we observe then it becomes definitely "objective".

Suppose I tell you I was in the desert and told you I was abducted by aliens. It was a subjective experience.

If both of us are abducted by aliens- at least WE (the two of us) "know" it was "real".

If there are hundreds of reliable witnesses, suddenly we have a "phenomenon".

If there is a hunk of alien metal we bring back, AND there are hundreds of witnesses, including scientists who take movies and then there is an alien tv broadcast on all channels saying "We are taking over"- THAT becomes "objective fact".

But it could be just as "true" that only I was abducted by aliens even though that was a totally "subjective" experience.

I cannot see through your eyes- it is that simple. If both of us see something, then thousands see it, it is "objective". Otherwise, we really can have doubt and uncertainty.

The purpose of science is to make replicable observations which create what we call "facts"- but it says nothing at all about how important these observations are in our lives.

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But you only ever show that subjectivity is important to us. It's a stretch from there to claim that our subjective experiences describes reality. It would be like saying that because I can not see ultraviolet light, it must not exist. Or because I can't experience quantum spin, it must not be happening.

If you are going to describe what is real to YOU, then by all means, use subjective means. In that case, the giant lobsters chasing a schizophrenic patient around the city, are indeed real. But we don't have to believe that aliens *actually* abducted that old lady, or that the mentally ills lobster hallucination really occurred (outside his own brain).

However, if we want to talk about how the universe actually works, then subjectivity will be of no help. That's not to say its not valuable, it just doesn't get us any closer to true answers. It's not subjectivity that invented modern society, but objective science.

If you want to modify your definition of science to include subjective experience, fine. But that doesn't mean that we need to take the conclusions of "Art science" as seriously as we take the conclusion of biology.

I would never modify science to include the subjective- that is not the purpose of science.

Please tell me how undiscovered species are "real".

Please describe an undiscovered species- what is it? What color? A fish or a bird?

If no one has ever seen it WHAT is it that is "real"?

Science is nothing more or less than the total collection of human observations we all can share, but to think that the only thing which is "real" is what has been collectively observed is just plain wrong.

Many things are "real" which cannot (or have not) be observed at all.

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If you define religion as subjective drive for meaning, then I could agree with you. That is not how a lot of people define religion, and when Einstein (or you) did it, I think many theists misinterpreted it (which is his own fault).

I feel a subjective twinge of awe every time I comprehend the trillions of cells in my body. It drives me to understand them. If I were to call this religious or spiritual though, would be misleading in the way we define the terms.

No, just the way some people define the terms.

There is nothing more important than the way we define terms. Definitions are the way we see the universe. Remember Pluto used to be a "planet".

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Eldwynn:

I don't believe Einstein was a pantheist either, nor strictly an atheist. I view him as more tied up in his work as a theoretical physicist than anything else.

By training I'm a social scientist, so I have no problem with accepting the subjective areas of human experience for objective study. So I am in awe too, and for more than just the individual cells. But that maybe just me. ;)

I think Einstein had all of creation in mind when discussing his god. I don't have a problem with that per say, though I understandably disagree.

It was a wise move on Einstein part to flee NAZI Germany.

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As I see it, it's not a question of the subjective VERSUS the objective- they are just two points of view which we can have at different times about different things.

The points of view are governed by our language- we can either speak of how things appear to us individually ("I am hungry"- subjective; "I know the Book of Mormon is true"- subjective) or we can speak of things we all can observe independently and verify- ("There are penguins in Antarctica"- objective)

Statements we all can verify may be interesting, but they don't give meaning to our lives.

We live our lives in the "subjective" mode- in sentences starting with the word "I" or variations thereof.

It is curious to me how people can get so confused about such a simple distinction. Many think that some archeological discovery for example (objective) could cause them personally to believe (subjective) that something is "true" when in fact there are always reasons to doubt objective observations- or really what that observation means.

Would any archeological discovery "prove" that, say the Bible is doctrinally "true"? Suppose it were possible to absolutely prove scientifically that the "true cross" was found beyond any possible doubt, or perhaps that the Shroud of Turin was the actual shroud of Jesus of Nazareth.

Would that prove that he was the Savior and took his sins upon us and we will therefore be able to return to our Father?

Of course it wouldn't prove that- because we can only know that "subjectively"- inside of us- within us- within our hearts.

Objective observation ultimately has nothing to do with how those observations affect us- THAT is what is important- the SIGNIFICANCE we ourselves find in what we see and observe- THAT is what has "importance" to us.

It's really very simple!

Very nice.

The problem with science is not the process, but the artificial limits that most scientists put on the evidence they will accept. Evidence, they say, must be objective. This is a reasonable limitation, in a way, because the goal of science is not just to find truth, but also to communicate it. And you can only communicate things that others will understand through your common experience. But many scientists use this limitation on what they can communicate to others as the criterion for what they will accept for themselves. They will not seek a revelation because it would be a subjective evidence. So what? What a brain-numbing, truth-avoiding, closed-minded attitude this is! This is not doing your damnedest with your mind, no holds barred; it is setting up artificial rules that exclude a wealth of evidence and knowledge. This is bad science. (Ron Hellings, Mormon Scholars Testify)

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I would never modify science to include the subjective- that is not the purpose of science.

Please tell me how undiscovered species are "real".

Please describe an undiscovered species- what is it? What color? A fish or a bird?

If no one has ever seen it WHAT is it that is "real"?

Science is nothing more or less than the total collection of human observations we all can share, but to think that the only thing which is "real" is what has been collectively observed is just plain wrong.

Many things are "real" which cannot (or have not) be observed at all.

Species is a (very useful) concept that is not clear cut in nature. I think I get your point though. Before we discovered the dinosaurs, did they exist? Of course they did. However, I think it would have been unwise to assume they existed, before the evidence came in. Similarly, we may think it logical that life outside our planet exists (based on an estimated probability of life emerging, and the number of planets in the universe) BUT until we find it, no body is going to say what it looks like, or how it works. We just simply don't know.

But neither of those examples sounds like religion to me. Religious people often say that they *know*. They know their god exists. They know Joseph Smith was a prophet etc. etc. They are willing to die, and in some cases, kill others for this. They say this without the objective evidence to show me that it is true. They tell me that the universe was created by a being *very similar to myself* and that I existed before this life, without being able to show me.

These are all incredibly bold claims, with nothing but a subjective feeling people feel? To defend such beliefs with "well you can't PROVE I am wrong yet... so I will keep believing" is frustratingly ignorant.

It's like the lady who believed the Universe rested on the back of a giant see turtle. We don't need to be able to see the universe from an outside perspective to tell her she is (a real stickler would say probably) wrong.

I would tell her she is wrong, even knowing that there is a tiny tiny chance she is correct, but we just don't live our lives that way. When she proves it- I will believe it.

In the same way, when religions objectively prove that there is a god, then I will be the first to accept it and move on. But to do so before such evidence seems utterly unreasonable. I know a common response for this is that "Well god doesn't want to be proved objectively, it's about faith". If that puts your mind at ease, then fine. But I am smart enough to realize that such a cop out would work for a vast range of absurd ideas. The only difference with this absurd idea is that a lot of people in my daily interactions take it seriously.

As of yet though, I have yet to see religious people take the discussion to objective means. It's not as if at least some of the questions out of reach of the scientific method. Here's a few:

Does prayer really effect the weather?

Does the priesthood really heal people?

Are prophets able to speak to the creator of the Universe in a way that I can not?

etc. etc. These are scientific questions that may not "prove" anything conclusively, but it would at least be a start to the discussion.

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I wanted to include some of the following, but I had no room and several quotes already:

The claim that scientism is true is not itself a scientific claim, not something that can be established using scientific methods. Indeed, that science is even a rational form of inquiry (let alone the only rational form of inquiry) is not something that can be established scientifically. For scientific inquiry itself rests on a number of philosophical assumptions: that there is an objective world external to the minds of scientists; that this world is governed by causal regularities; that the human intellect can uncover and accurately describe these regularities; and so forth. Since science presupposes these things, it cannot attempt to justify them without arguing in a circle. And if it cannot even establish that it is a reliable form of inquiry, it can hardly establish that it is the only reliable form...There is also the question of how to interpret what science tells us about the world...If science must depend upon philosophy both to justify its presuppositions and to interpret its results, the falsity of scientism seems doubly assured.

...The irony is that the very practice of science itself, which involves the formulation of hypotheses, the weighing of evidence, the invention of technical concepts and vocabularies, the construction of chains of reasoning, and so forth—all mental activities saturated with meaning and purpose—falls on the “subjective,” “manifest image” side of scientism’s divide rather than the “objective,” “scientific image” side. Human thought and action, including the thoughts and actions of scientists, is of its nature irreducible to the meaningless, purposeless motions of particles and the like...There is no such thing as “thinking,” “believing,” “desiring,” “meaning,” etc.; there is only the firing of neurons, the secretion of hormones, the twitching of muscles, and other such physiological events...But as Hayek would have predicted, the very attempt to state the position necessarily, but incoherently, makes use of concepts—“science,” “rationality,” “evidence,” “truth,” and so forth—that presuppose exactly what the position denies, viz. the reality of meaning and mind. (Edward Feser, "Blinded by Scientism," Public Discourse: Ethics, Law, and the Common Good, March 9, 2010)

Living in an age dominated by science, we have come more and more to believe in an objective, empirical reality and in the goal of reaching a complete understanding of that reality...But we’re fooling ourselves. Most of these comprehensive theories are no more than stories that fail to take into account one crucial factor: we are creating them. It is the biological creature that makes observations, names what it observes, and creates stories. Science has not succeeded in confronting the element of existence that is at once most familiar and most mysterious—conscious experience. (Robert Lanza, "A New Theory of the Universe: Biocentrism Builds on Quantum Physics by Putting Life into the Equation," The American Scholar, Spring 2007)

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Eldwynn:

Does prayer really effect the weather? No. But God does respond to prayers to change the weather.

Does the priesthood really heal people? Yes, if it is in the purposes of God.

Are prophets able to speak to the creator of the Universe in a way that I can not? No, everyone is entitled to pray to the creator. The answers of course will be just for that person, and may not necessarily be for the whole world.

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Eldwynn:

Does prayer really effect the weather? No. But God does respond to prayers to change the weather.

Does the priesthood really heal people? Yes, if it is in the purposes of God.

Are prophets able to speak to the creator of the Universe in a way that I can not? No, everyone is entitled to pray to the creator. The answers of course will be just for that person, and may not necessarily be for the whole world.

What evidence do you have that "God does respond to prayers to change the weather?" How are you certain that it was god changing the weather rather then a natural, meteorlogical force as an explanation for the change in weather?

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I fully agree science makes assumptions. Things such as "the simplest explanation is the most likely to be true". But to say that religions assumptions are just as reasonable? I can't agree.

To take a current example: Evolutionary theory assumes an original replicator. It had to be simple- not complex. It is an assumption of the theory. Given the replicator, evolution by natural selection takes off. It's inevitable- the theory states, given replication and variance in population and limited resources etc. etc.

However, intelligent design or evolution guided by intelligence (or saying that god used evolution to create man)assumes intelligence (the thing evolution claims is the product of evolution) from the outset. Not only is this begging the question, but it makes a rather large assumption from the start.

The point does not have so much to do with evolutionary theory (whether you think it is true or not), but the use of assumptions in science and religion. I am sure many have put it more eloquently than I have, but I think the assumptions science makes on a whole new level are totally different, and incomparable, to the assumption religion makes. To try and compare the two as "two seperate ways to truth" (truth being defined as the nature of reality), just doesn't seem logical.

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Eldwynn:

Does prayer really effect the weather? No. But God does respond to prayers to change the weather.

Does the priesthood really heal people? Yes, if it is in the purposes of God.

Are prophets able to speak to the creator of the Universe in a way that I can not? No, everyone is entitled to pray to the creator. The answers of course will be just for that person, and may not necessarily be for the whole world.

Did you really miss the point?

You are simply making up answers. Those questions are scientific in nature. PROVE to me, that the priesthood heals people statistically more than other methods of placebo. This is theoretically possible, and would at least suggest that perhaps something else is going on.

If you are claiming that god is not supernatural, but can only work in the confines of natural laws anyways- well than that changes so many things.

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