Tuesday


Indiana Jones is adventure science at its most exciting, though the films are more often about looting and destroying sites rather than preserving them.

Indiana Jones is adventure science at its most exciting, though the films are more often about looting and destroying sites rather than preserving them.

In my recent paper “A Manifesto for the Scientific Study of Civilization” I argued that the study of civilization should be scientific, and that a scientific theory of civilization would be a formal theory. Prior to this, I argued in Rational Reconstructions of Time that a formal historiography is possible. What is the connection between these two claims? In A Metaphysical Disconnect I suggested that it is a philosophical problem that philosophies of time have not been tightly-coupled with philosophies of history. This implies that a formal theory of time could be tightly-coupled with a formal theory of history, and a formal theory of history would presumably encompass (or, at least, overlap) a theory of civilization. A formal theory of civilization, then, might ultimately follow from formal historiography.

I fully understand that these are strange claims for me to be making. What in the world do I mean by a formal theory of time, of history, or of civilization? How could a science of civilization be a formal science? What is a formal science, anyway? Despite the burgeoning growth of computer science in our time, which is the latest addition to the formal sciences, the very idea of the formal as a distinct category of thought (distinct, especially, from the material) seems odd and alien to us, and the distinction between the formal sciences and the natural sciences seems archaic. What are the formal sciences? Here is one view:

“To put it in Kantian terms, the formal sciences dealt with the Reine Anschauung as opposed to empirical data. By that they have been connected to the methodology of mathematics and logic, thereby being part of both the philosophical tradition and the newly won applications of mathematical sciences to the natural sciences and engineering. Both the object and the methods of the Formal sciences were recognized as different from the Natural and the Social sciences.”

“The Formal Sciences: Their Scope, Their Foundations, and Their Unity” by Benedikt Löwe, Synthese, Vol. 133, No. 1/2, Foundations of the Formal Sciences I (Oct.-Nov., 2002),pp. 5-11

In the same paper there is an explicit attempt to answer the question, “What are the Formal Sciences?” Two answers are given:

● Answer 1: “There is a profound duality in the classification of sciences according to their scientific approaches: some sciences are empirical, some are formal. The former deal with predictions and their falsification, the latter with the understanding of systems without empirical component, be it man-made systems (literary systems, the arts or social systems) or formal systems”.

● Answer 2: “Formal sciences are those that deal with the deductive analysis of formal systems (i.e., systems independent of direct human influence)”.

At present I am not going to analyze these differing definitions of the formal sciences, but I will leave them to percolate in the back of the mind of the reader in order to return to the question at hand: the study of civilization as a formal science, i.e., one formal science among many other formal sciences, however we choose to define them.

We can get a hint of what a formal science of civilization would look like from structuralist historians and historians of the Annales school, the chief representatives of the latter being Marc Bloch, Lucien Febvre, and Fernand Braudel. Marc Bloch’s two volume history of feudalism, in particular, stands out as a great achievement in the genre, with chapters devoted to features of feudal society rather than to great events and historical turning points. Whereas John Florio had Montaigne say that I describe not the essence but the passage, Bloch sought to describe not the passage, but the essence. (I previously quoted from Bloch in Hegel and the Overview Effect.)

There is (or, there will be) no one, single way to approach formal historiography, in the same way that there is no one, single axiomatization of set theory. Even if one agrees with Gödel that set theory describes a “well-determined reality” (a realist conception that most people today would agree describes the past, even if they would hesitate to say the same of set theory), there are, as yet, many distinct approaches to that reality. So too with formal historiography; there will be many distinct formalisms for the organization, exhibition, and exposition of the well-determined reality of history.

I reveal myself as being more of a traditionalist than Bloch by my preference for approaching a theory of civilization by way of a theory of history, and a theory of history by way of a theory of time. This is “traditional” in the sense that, as I have remarked many times in other places, it has been traditional to study civilization by studying history, rather than studying civilization as an object of knowledge in its own right. I retain the historical perspective, and indeed even many of the prejudices of historians (these come naturally to me), but I can also see beyond history sensu stricto and to a science of time, a science of history, and a science of civilization that lies beyond history even as it draws from the tradition all that that tradition has to offer.

Both the essentialist approach of Bloch and the Annales school, and my own quasi-historical approach to a formal science of civilization, may each have something to contribute to a theory of civilization. Obviously, these are not the only ways to study civilization. Civilization also can be studied as an empirical science — this is probably how most would conceive a science of civilization — and even as an adventure science. What is adventure science?

Together with Dr. Jacob Shively, I wrote an article about adventure science, Adventure Science Enters the Space Age, noting that “big science” has become the paradigm of scientific activity at the present time, but when individual human beings are able to go exploring they will be able to pluck the low-hanging fruit of exploration and discovery. Adventure science characterizes the earliest stage of a science when discoveries can be made simply by traveling to an exotic locale and being the first to describe some phenomenon never before documented by science. Such discoveries are difficult for us now, because the low-hanging fruit of terrestrial discovery has all been plucked, but once off Earth, new worlds will beckon with new discoveries waiting to be made. This will be a new Golden Age of adventure science.

Paradoxically, the science of civilization will become an adventure science (if it ever becomes one) quite late in its history, so that adventure science will characterize a science of civilization not in its earliest stages, but in its latest stages. But civilization has had a kind of early adventure science phase as well. Archaeology was once the paradigm of adventure science — as attested to by the cinematic adventures of Indiana Jones and the television adventures of Relic Hunter — when real life explorers entered jungles and deserts and swamps to search for long lost cities. Archaeology is perhaps the closest existing discipline that we have to a true science of civilization — archaeologists have many theories of civilization — so that the adventure science that archaeology once was, was at the same time (at least in part) an adventure science of civilization. And it may be so again, when xenoarchaeologists lead the way, looking for the ruins of alien civilizations.

All of the resources of contemporary big science, with its thousands of researchers and multi-generational socially-organized research programs, will be necessary in order to develop the science that will make possible the production of interstellar vessels. In my Centauri Dreams post, The Interstellar Imperative, I wrote, “A starship would be the ultimate scientific instrument produced by technological civilization, constituting both a demanding engineering challenge to build and offering the possibility of greatly expanding the scope of scientific knowledge by studying up close the stars and worlds of our universe, as well as any life and civilization these worlds may comprise.” Once starships become a reality, they will make possible the empirical study of civilizations, which will begin as an adventure science, the primary qualification for which will be a willingness to tolerate discomfort and to travel to distant places with a determination to document every new sight that one sees.

Geology will become an adventure science like this once again as soon as human beings have the freedom to travel around our solar system; biology and ecology will become adventure sciences once again as soon as we can visit other living worlds. The study of civilization will not become an adventure science until human beings are free to travel about the cosmos, so that this is a very distant prospect, but still a hopeful one. If we do not find a number of interesting civilizations to study, we will build a number of interesting civilizations, and eventually these will be studied in their turn. In this latter instance, the science of civilization will only become an adventure science after civilization has expanded throughout the cosmos, has forgotten the saga of its expansion, and then rediscovers itself across a plurality of worlds. And once again we will be forced to reckon with Hegel’s prescience for having said that the owl of Minerva takes flight only with the setting of the sun.

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'Anywhen' by Chris Foss perfectly expresses the mystery and adventure of exploration. Perhaps some day in the far future, the study of civilization will be an adventure science in which such exploration takes a central role.

“Anywhen” by Chris Foss perfectly expresses the mystery and adventure of exploration. Perhaps some day in the far future, the study of civilization will be an adventure science in which such exploration takes a central role.

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Thursday


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Science has become central to industrial-technological civilization. I would define at least one of the properties that distinguishes industrial-technological civilization from agriculturalism or nomadism as the conscious application of science to technology, and the conscious application in turn of technology to industrial production. Prior to industrial-technological civilization there were science and technology and industry, but the three were not systematically interrelated and consciously pursued with an eye toward steadily increasing productivity.

The role of science within industrial-technological civilization has given science and scientists a special role in society. This role is not the glamorous role of film and music and athletic celebrities, and it is not the high-flying role of celebrity bankers and fund managers and executives, but it is nevertheless a powerful role. As Shelley once said that poets were the unacknowledged legislators of the world, we can say that scientists are the unacknowledged legislators of industrial technological civilization. Foucault came close to saying this when he said that doctors are the strategists of life and death.

I have previously discussed the ideological role of science in the contemporary world in The Political Uses of Science. Perhaps the predominant ideological function of science today is the role of “big science” — enormous research projects backed by government, industry, and universities that employ the talents of hundreds if not thousands of scientists. When Kuhnian normal science has this kind of backing, it is difficult for marginal scientific enterprises to compete. Big science moves markets and moves societies not because it is explicitly ideological in character, but because it is effective in meeting practical needs (though these needs are socially defined by the society in which science functions as a part).

Despite the fact that progress in scientific research is driven by the falsification and revision of theories through the expedient of experimentation, the scientific community has been surprisingly successful in closing ranks behind the most successful scientific theories of our time and presenting a united front that does not really give an accurate impression of the profound differences that separate scientists. Often a scientist spends an entire career trying to get a hearing or his or her idea, and this effort is not always successful. There are very real and bitter differences between the advocates of distinct scientific theories. The scientist sacrifices a life to research in a way not unlike the soldier who sacrifices his life on the battlefield: each uses up a life for a cause.

I have some specific examples in mind when I say that scientists have been successful as closing ranks behind what Kuhn would have called “normal science.” I have written about big bang cosmology and quantum theory in this connection. In Conformal Cyclic Cosmology I noted at least one theory seeking empirical evidence for the world prior to the big bang, while in The limits of my language are the limits of my world I discussed some recent experiments that seem to give us more knowledge of the quantum world that traditional interpretations of quantum theory would seem to suggest is possible.

No one of a truly curious disposition could ever be satisfied with the big bang theory, except in so far as it is but one step — and an admittedly very large step — toward a larger natural history of the universe. Given that the entire observable universe may be the result of a single big bang, any account of the world beyond or before the universe defined by the big bang presents possibly insuperable difficulties for observational cosmology. But the mind does not stop with observational cosmology; the mind does not stop even when presented with obstacles that initially seem insuperable. Slowly and surely the mind seeks the gradual way up what Dawkins called Mount Improbable.

Despite the united front that supports fundamental scientific theories (the sorts of science that Quine would have placed near the center of the web of belief), we know from the examples of Penrose’s conformal cyclic cosmology and the recent experiments attempting to simultaneously measure the position and velocity of quantum particles that scientists are continuing to think beyond the customary interpretations of theories.

The often-repeated claims that space and time were created simultaneously in the big bang and that it is pointless to ask what came before the big bang (as earlier generations were assured that it was illegitimate to ask “Who made God?”), and the claims of the impossibility of simultaneous measurements of a quantum particle’s position and velocity have not stopped the curious from probing beyond these barriers to knowledge. One must, or course, be careful, for there is a danger of being seen as a crackpot, so such inquiries are kept quiet quiet until some kind of empirical evidence can be produced. But before the evidence can be sought, there needs to be an idea of what to look for, and an idea of what to look for comes from a theory. That theory, in turn, must exceed the established interpretations of science if it is too look for anything new.

We know what happens when scientists not only say that something is impossible or unknowable, but also accept that certain things are impossible or unknowable and actually cease to engage in inquiry, and make no attempt to think beyond the limits of accepted theories: we get a dark age. A recent book has spoken of the European middle ages as The Closing of the Western Mind. (In the Islamic world a very similar phenomenon was called “Taqlid” or, “the closing of the gates of Ijtihad“.) When scientists not only say that noting more can be known, but they actually act as though nothing more can be known, and cease to question normal science, this is when intellectual progress stops, and this has happened several times in human history (although I know that this is a controversial position to argue; cf. my The Phenomenon of Civilization Revisited).

It is precisely the fact that science continues to be consciously and systematically pursued in the modern era despite many claims that everything knowable was known that sets industrial-technological civilization apart from all previous iterations of civilization.

Science goes on behind the scenes.

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Tuesday


Day before yesterday in Philosophies of the Secret Garden I discussed a passage in Nietzsche where he compared his philosophical efforts to tending a secret garden, and I suggested that there are “secret gardens” in both science and philosophy that fall between Kuhnian normal science (or philosophy) and revolutionary science (or philosophy). Some of what I said applies to military doctrine, though the intrinsic properties of an essentially social experience make it a slightly different case that the essentially solitary activity of philosophy. This makes the example of science particularly interesting, since it occupies a position between philosophy and doctrine.

A philosopher and a mathematician can work in near isolation. Most, as a contingent matter of fact do not work in complete isolation, but prefer the stimulus afforded by interaction with like-minded thinkers, but some do in fact isolate themselves, and often this is purposeful. Descartes reputedly moved his residence repeatedly in order to avoid unannounced callers. Even today there are some well known thinkers who work in near isolation. Perhaps the most famous example in the present age is Grigori Perelman, the mathematician who proved the Poincaré conjecture.

Some creative undertakings demand the contributions of many persons and many talents. One cannot produce a show on Broadway or a film in Hollywood without the collective efforts of a great many people. One can write a screenplay in isolation, but it will never be produced as a film without the participation of others. Similarly, a visionary architect can design a building in isolation, but without the efforts and cooperation of a great many others, his buildings will never get built. The isolated novelist or philosopher or mathematician can hope that their work will survive and resonate with future ages, even if it falls flat in their own time, but the more that a creative expression is communal, like film or architecture, the less likely this will happen, or, if it does happen, that it will resemble the vision of the isolated visionary.

Military doctrine — whether strategic, operational, or tactical — is a social art, like film or architecture. As a social art, military doctrine is less open to the work of an isolated genius. There certainly is normal doctrine and revolutionary doctrine, parallel to normal science and revolutionary science, but there is far less latitude for a secret garden of strategy. Furthermore, doctrine is not only a social art, it is also an overwhelmingly contingent art that has little to do with necessary, a priori truths. Doctrine is learned from particular, empirical states of affairs. This knowledge can, of course, be acquired in isolation, like a knowledge of philosophy of literature, but the most recent developments are not likely to be widely available, and in fact most of the relevant details may be classified, or, if not classified, certainly difficult of access.

Having made the case for doctrine as a social art, and acknowledged the difficulty of acquiring knowledge of doctrine in isolation, not to mention the near impossibility of attracting any interest in such an effort, it remains to point out that, while difficult and rare, it still remains possible for there to be a secret garden of strategy, and the very possibility of this, as slim as it is, presents the possibility of a game-changing confrontation with established doctrine. No one can afford to neglect the possibility, since it presents the aspect of a strategic shock that could upset accepted calculations.

As I noted above, individual pursuits like literature present no great difficulties to the individual enthusiast. Science was once like this, and science was once primarily the pursuit of gentlemen amateurs. Some of these gentlemen amateurs made great contributions, and the greatest of them — Charles Darwin — not only made contributions, but probably changed the way that science is done and effected a conceptual revolution as profound as that of Copernicus. Elsewhere I have called this the heroic conception of science — an individual, working alone, on a project that would transform the world, knowing that if the project is made public precipitously, it will certainly invite ridicule rather than foment revolution. Darwin knew well, as Nietzsche counseled, how to keep silent long enough.

Today science is mostly Big Science, but it isn’t all Big Science. There remains the possibility of the heroic individual scientist going against the establishment, which pursues the iterative conception of science with an army of scientists, organized in a top-down hierarchical structure that resembles military organization more than it resembles the discoveries of Galileo, Newton, and Einstein.

One could say that the more institutionalized science becomes, the more resources it will have at its command, and therefore the more difficult it would be for any individual to make a meaningful contribution to science outside this structure. But at the same time as institutionalized Big Science has many resources and an army of contributors jointly pursuing the same end, the spirit of individual initiative is weakened and the institution becomes vulnerable to group think that simply dismisses anything outside its purview as irrelevant and uninteresting. Institutionalized power carries with it the ability to pursue and attain ends that lie far beyond the ability of the individual, but it also carries with it the risk of stifling innovation.

To return to my distinction above between social arts and solitary arts, what could be more of a social art that politics? And is not politics the very soul of institutionalized power, being institutionalized power in its purest form, unencumbered by any desire other than power? As a nearly perfect exemplification of a social art, it ought to be the case that only those with extensive knowledge and experience within the social milieu that defines the art of politics would possess the particular epistemic background that it would make it possible for such an individual to make innovations within the field. But what we find in fact is that politics is the most uncreative arts, in fact, nearly hostile to innovation, and those who have been in it the longest are the most impervious to new ideas. Thus in the case of the social art of politics, institutionalized ossification so dominates political discourse that trying something new has become a near impossibility — indeed, as I have observed elsewhere, it literally takes a revolution to effect political change.

Just as the intensely social milieu of political thought takes a revolution even to implement small changes, so too the intensely social milieu of military thought requires the military equivalent of a revolution in order to effect changes. However, while in politics social conflicts are primarily resolved within a single social system, military conflicts primarily resolved in a contest between different social systems, except in the case of civil wars. This is an important distinction. The political life of a political entity may become so institutionalized that change becomes unthinkable, but the military life of a political entity can be decided from without, but those who have no stake whatsoever in the welfare of that political entity, and may even seek the dissolution of that political entity.

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Saturday


In a world as technologically complex and sophisticated as ours, the political uses of science are legion. Science both gives us technology and analyzes how these technologies function. Technology is, in a sense, older than science, since technology pre-dates the emergence of civilization itself, a fortiori also the emergence of science in its modern form. Moreover, a rudimentary technology existed side-by-side with non-scientific civilizations for thousands of years.

What is different now is that the conscious application of science to technical problems was one of the factors that made the Industrial Revolution what it was, and continues to make the Industrial Revolution a reality in our ever-changing daily lives. We have come to expect rapid technological and scientific change, and to expect that as we grow older we become progressively more out of date. Whereas before the Industrial Revolution patterns of life had been relatively stable since the Neolithic Agricultural Revolution, now it is often said that change is the only constant.

I haven’t yet thought systematically about the political uses and abuses of science, but what follows is a sort of first impression, an off-the-cuff account of how the ideals of scientific objectivity become prey to human, all-too-human interests in a scientific society.

Feudal Science

Feudal science is science pursued in the interests of established power structures. This is nothing other than the science favored by the powers that be and the economic and military infrastructure that supports them and which gives them their raison d’être. In other words, feudal science is the ideological infrastructure of quasi-feudal, ossified societies, and as such is a species of ideological science (see below), but it deserves special mention because of its relation to power structures.

Foucault’s illustrious career was more of less devoted to exposing feudal science in its many forms in psychiatry, penology, natural science, political economy, and a variety of fields. Though Foucault disdained to identify himself with any intellectual “movement” (and for good reason, presumably similar reasons to those of Sartre in warning intellectuals of allowing themselves to become an institution), his focus on history is redolent of the Annales historians with their concern for the longue durée. The virtue of Foucault’s approach is to see science in the context of the longue durée, and this is fatal to any effort to set up any society and its institutions as permanent and unchanging, which is a typical feature of feudalism.

Here is Foucault’s formulation from a well-known interview:

Each of my works is a part of my own biography. For one or another reason I had the occasion to feel and live those things. To take a simple example, I used to work in a psychiatric hospital in the 1950s. After having studied philosophy, I wanted to see what madness was: I had been mad enough to study reason; I was reasonable enough to study madness. I was free to move from the patients to the attendants, for I had no precise role. It was the time of the blooming of neurosurgery, the beginning of psychopharmacology, the reign of the traditional institution. At first I accepted things as necessary, but then after three months (I am slow-minded!), I asked, “What is the necessity of these things?” After three years I left the job and went to Sweden in great personal discomfort and started to write a history of these practices. Madness and Civilization was intended to be a first volume. I like to write first volumes, and I hate to write second ones. It was perceived as a psychiatricide, but it was a description from history. You know the difference between a real science and a pseudoscience? A real science recognizes and accepts its own history without feeling attacked. When you tell a psychiatrist his mental institution came from the lazar house, he becomes infuriated.

Truth, Power, Self: An Interview with Michel Foucault — October 25th, 1982, Martin, L. H. et al (1988) Technologies of the Self: A Seminar with Michel Foucault, London: Tavistock. pp.9-15

If “a real science recognizes and accepts its own history without feeling attacked,” then a feudal science either denies that history or constructs a fictitious history that gives no reason for even the most reactionary elements within a scientific institution to feel attacked.

Baroque Science

In his idiosyncratic Dictionary of Philosophy, Mario Bunge defines baroque philosophy as, “Rhetorical (empty and convoluted) form of philosophizing that specializes in miniproblems and pseudoproblems.” This definition can be applied, mutatis mutandis, to what we may call baroque science. Baroque science focuses its effort, intensified by its very narrowness, upon the miniproblems and pseudoproblems of science. The conceptual miniaturist, if he has no ambitions for anything greater, can find endless fascination in the smallest possible objects of the scientific interest. As this fascination builds momentum with its focus refined to a pinpoint, this method contains itself as it comes to see scientific problem as the smaller the better.

It should be immediately obvious that baroque science is nothing but a subspecies of feudal science; baroque science is feudal science at its most precious and self-conscious. Taking Bunge’s architectural metaphor further, it might even be better to call it rococo science, and to reserve the term “baroque science” for what I have above called “feudal science,” for rococo science has all the delicacy, intimacy, and mannered good taste as is to be found in any rococo interior. One can scarcely think in such terms without imagining chamber music by candlelight, and only a very civilized science indeed would inspire such a thought.

Revolutionary Science

Human nature being what it is, no class of intelligent, resourceful, and ambitious men could ever be content with dubious pleasures of feudal science or baroque science, and so they rebel. In rebelling they contribute to the speciation of the science and create a new, revolutionary science. Now, revolutionary science is none other than that science made famous by Thomas Kuhn’s efforts to analyze the nature of scientific revolutions. I have many times had occasion to mention Kuhn’s work (for example, in Scientific Progress) so I will not spend much time on it here. Kuhn’s fame nearly singles him out among twentieth century philosophers, comparable perhaps to Foucault, whose critique of the history of science is very different from that of Kuhn, but in no sense mutually exclusive. Kuhn, like Foucault, sees science in historical context, but draws different lessons from his historical inquiry.

Revolutionary science is scientific novelty at the vanguard of social change — i.e., a scientific movement often co-opted by a political movement, and therefore a species of ideological science (see below).

Potemkin Science

Potemkin science is the science of a Potemkin Village; it is fake science, false science, unreal science, science based upon unscientific principles and assumptions. What we are here calling “Potemkin science” is also known as “cargo cult science,” so called by Richard Feynman, or more commonly known as pseudo-science. Feynman put it like this:


In the South Seas there is a cargo cult of people. During the war they saw airplanes land with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they’ve arranged to imitate things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head like headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas — he’s the controller — and they wait for the airplanes to land. They’re doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn’t work. No airplanes land. So I call these things cargo cult science, because they follow all the apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but they’re missing something essential, because the planes don’t land.

A Potemkin science can have all the trappings of a genuine science, and as science matures and stabilizes within industrialized civilization, becoming less and less frequently revolutionary science, it builds up socio-political forms that are easily mimicked and imitated by epistemic efforts that are flagrantly unscientific. A Potemkin science can have journals, awards, scientific societies, university chairs, institutions, and the respect and approbation of the public. But, as Feynman said, Potemkin sciences lack something essential.

Feynman had his own examples of Potemkin science, but my favorite current example is the so-called technological singularity.

Revisionary Science

Revisionary science I understand to be the scientific equivalent to what Strawson called revisionary metaphysics, which he contrasted to descriptive metaphysics. Whereas the latter seeks only to describe the world as accurately as possible according to a received conceptual scheme, the former seeks to revise the conceptual scheme itself and improve upon metaphysics. Thus revisionary science tries to improve upon science itself, and not merely to produce further examples of familiar science.

Revisionary science thus occupies a place between openly revolutionary science, with its ambition to overturn established scientific conventions and knowledge, and feudal science with its pretense to understanding the world in terms of unchanging ideas, categories, and concepts. A great deal of science is revisionary science, and much of the best science is revisionary science. We save what is of value in the tradition, but we cast away what is no longer of value and supplement what remains with novel science.

Any such endeavors involve dangers; the attempt to formulate a better set of background assumptions for science is more likely to simply reflect the prejudices of present investigators than to introduce any new objectivity in place of former cant and subjectivity, but this danger is no less than the danger of feudal science, which bends every effort to admit not change at all. Revisionary science attempts to find the truth between these opposite dangers, and when it succeeds it advances our knowledge.

Perverted Science

Perverted science is none other than that species of science made famous in the peroration of Winston Churchill’s “Finest Hour” speech:

Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’

I can imagine a journalist would tell us that perverted science is science that has lost its “moral compass,” but we are not journalists, so we must hold ourselves to certain standards. We must, for example, acknowledge the complexity of the world, and the fact that what is a perversion for one person is a pleasure for another.

Perverted science is that science pursued according to a morality distinct from that which we recognize as our own. This is important on two points. Firstly, it is an open admission that science depends upon a moral vision of the world, and therefore that science conceived apart from such a moral vision is itself a kind of perverted science, and secondly that if we can attain to a morality of sufficient generality and egalitarian representation, we can approach a science that reflects what is best in us, and we can also identify more clearly a perverted science for what it is.

Ideological Science

Ideological science, like perverted science, is a science pursued according to a morality distinct from that which we recognize as our own, or, rather, science pursued according to a political ideology distinct from our own. Here I am being a bit idealistic and allowing us to assume that we have attempted to formulate a science (as mentioned above) that exemplifies all that is best in us, and that other sciences fall far short of this mark.

Outright ideological science is less common that science co-opted by ideology. Powerful political ideologies have relentless representatives who are always on the lookout for science that seems to support a view of things that the political ideologue already believed independently of any scientific investigation. Once discovered, few scientists can resist the Siren song of funding and recognition that comes with political support. And so what might otherwise be legitimate science becomes seduced by ideology and gradually allows itself to be transformed into ideological science.

Big Science

Big Science is the science is in part the science of the military-industrial complex, but it is moreover simply the science that emerges from mature and stable industrialized civilization, with its mature and stable institutions that evolve and develop gradually but which are formulated with an eye toward excluding any revolutionary change that would “rock the boat.” (Big science may at times appear to be revolutionary science, but the two are usually radically distinct.) It is also, more specifically, the science that emerges from institutionalized scholarship (of which I have written at some length).

Big Science is known for its big university departments, its big research programs, its big endowments, and especially its big hardware. Enormous science projects that draw in expertise, funding, and entire departments become self-sustaining and indeed expanding social movements in miniature. No one can afford to be left out of the big ambitions of big science (as no news outlet can afford to not cover the big story that every other news outlet is covering) so that big science creates a growing cluster of scientific activity.

With big science, scientists becomes players in a game that has little or nothing to do with science. In order to keep the research dollars flowing in, they must compete with others also seeking money and attention, and so they become bureaucrats, accountants, politicians, and even showmen as they pursue yet another magazine cover to showcase their work. There is no reason that one cannot be both scientist and showman at the same time, but few have the aptitude or the ability to do both really well; one function or the other must suffer, and if the show is to go on, it won’t be the show that suffers.

Science and Knowledge

In our contemporary world of industrialized civilization, science is perhaps the primary source of the generation of new knowledge (we might even coin a term and say that it is epistemogenic). Science is not only the primary source of knowledge today, but also the primary guarantor of the legitimacy of knowledge. Thus “science” has come to serve a rhetorical function in our vocabulary, as we express our admiration of certain epistemic efforts by calling them “science” while we express our disapproval of other epistemic efforts by denying that such efforts are science. This habit has been formalized in Popper’s criterion of scientificity in terms of falsifiability.

However, as we have seen, science is not one, but many. There are many species of science, and each species of science produces a species of knowledge. Thus knowledge too is not one, but many. If we don’t look to carefully, we can convince ourselves that all the diverse efforts of the many forms of science are somehow and ultimately in harmony (like ancient and early modern attempts to demonstrate the harmony of Plato and Aristotle). But if we do look carefully, we will have to admit that there are many kinds of science, many kinds of knowledge produced by these many kinds of science, and that the result is a teeming epistemic pluralism with no central theme of unifying idea.

The proper response to this is to sort through the species of scientific knowledge philosophically, and to assess them by a philosophical criterion that is external to all the sciences and internal to none of them, but I don’t expect this to happen any time soon, as the same sociological mechanisms that have enshrined science as a source of knowledge have also virtually made philosophical knowledge disappear. As a result, contemporary culture is almost incapable of exercising philosophical judgment, and we all suffer as a consequence of this conceptual myopia. The eye of the soul has become near-sighted, and we await a change in present sociological formations that will make possible a dispensing optician to address the deficit.

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