Kitcher on Scientism

I’m coming very late to the party on this one, but I wanted to comment on Philip Kitcher’s recent article on scientism, published in The New Republic.

A while back I did two posts on scientism (here and here). The first of these posts was titled, “What is Scientism?”, since it’s never been entirely clear to me what someone accused of scientism is actually guilty of. Often it just means you are guilty of being dismissive of religious “ways of knowing,” such as direct experience of God or divine revelation. Since I think one ought to be dismissive of such things, I am often keen to defend some form of scientism.

One of the main points I made in those posts was that science should be viewed as a method of investigation, and not as an activity confined to studying the natural world. Certainly when people use the term “science” they are probably envisioning lab coats and test tubes, but it is also very common to speak of taking a scientific approach to a problem. If I said that someone trying to locate his missing car keys by retracing his steps was behaving scientifically, would anyone think I was abusing language? The whole point of the term “social science,” as I see it, is to connote a branch of inquiry that uses scientific methods to investigate questions that are different from what natural scientists generally think about.

Critics of scientism will often point to history as some devastating counterexample. The subtitle of Kitcher’s article is, “Why history and the humanities are also a form of knowledge.” Since I regard it as obvious that the work historians do produces knowledge, it had not occurred to me that in defending scientism I was attacking history. As I see it, historians produce knowledge by using scientific methods to study the past. Many critics at the time, both here and at other blogs, retorted that historians have specialized skills that scientists lack, and use methods that are unique to their fields. Indeed they do, but that is beside the point. Biologists and physics have different skills and employ different techniques in their daily work. A physicist in a biology lab wouldn’t know what to do. But biology and physics are plainly manifestations of the same underlying investigative method, and history is as well.

Thus, you can imagine my delight upon coming to this passage in Kitcher’s essay:

The contrast between the methods of the two realms, which seems so damning to the humanities, is a false one. Not only are the methods deployed within humanistic domains — say, in attributions of musical scores to particular composers or of pictures to particular artists — as sophisticated and rigorous as the techniques deployed by paleontologists or biochemists, but in many instances they are the same. The historical linguists who recognize connections among languages or within a language at different times, and the religious scholars who point out the affiliations among different texts, use methods equivalent to those that have been deployed ever since Darwin in the study of the history of life. Indeed, Darwin’s paleontology borrowed the method from early nineteenth-century studies of the history of languages.

Bingo! That’s almost exactly the point I was making. But now I’m confused, because this seems like an argument in favor of scientism, not against it. Domains of inquiry that do not fall under the umbrella of natural science produce knowledge by employing the same kind of methods scientists use. So why all the hand-wringing when someone says that science is the only way of knowing? Why the endless desire to draw firm lines between academic disciplines? Why did so many critics of my earlier posts act as though it was some great insult to suggest that historians were behaving scientifically?

Here’s another place where I think Kitcher has it exactly right:

The problem with scientism — which is of course not the same thing as science — is owed to a number of sources, and they deserve critical scrutiny. The enthusiasm for natural scientific imperialism rests on five observations. First, there is the sense that the humanities and social sciences are doomed to deliver a seemingly directionless sequence of theories and explanations, with no promise of additive progress. Second, there is the contrasting record of extraordinary success in some areas of natural science. Third, there is the explicit articulation of technique and method in the natural sciences, which fosters the conviction that natural scientists are able to acquire and combine evidence in particularly rigorous ways. Fourth, there is the perception that humanists and social scientists are only able to reason cogently when they confine themselves to conclusions of limited generality: insofar as they aim at significant—general—conclusions, their methods and their evidence are unrigorous. Finally, there is the commonplace perception that the humanities and social sciences have been dominated, for long periods of their histories, by spectacularly false theories, grand doctrines that enjoy enormous popularity until fashion changes, as their glaring shortcomings are disclosed.

These familiar observations have the unfortunate effect of transforming differences of degree into differences of kind, as enthusiasts for the alleged superiority of natural science readily succumb to stereotypes and over-generalizations, without regard for more subtle explanations. (emphasis added)

It’s that bold-face line that I think is perfect. It’s not that natural science is one thing and social science is a different kind of thing. It’s that we have a set of common sense investigative methods that produce reliable knowledge, and these methods can be applied to problems in all sorts of areas. When applied to the relatively simple systems of the sort considered by classical physics, they produce a level of predictive accuracy that is the envy of every other discipline. When applied to more complicated systems, like human communities or animal behavior, things get messier. No doubt this messiness implies that we need to be a bit more cautious in accepting the conclusions of social sciences, but they steadily produce knowledge nonetheless.

But now I’m really confused. The rap against scientism was supposed to be that it arrogantly denies the possibility of nonscientific ways of knowing. The thrust of Kitcher’s argument, on the other hand, is that natural scientists need to recognize that researchers in social science and the humanities are more like them than is sometimes recognized. I agree, as noted before, but that was precisely the point I raised in support of scientism.

So what’s going on here? I tend to like scientism, but I agreed with most of what Kitcher had to say in this article. It took a while before I realized the solution to the problem. Kitcher, I think, is not really discussing knowledge, or “ways of knowing,” at all. He is talking about something else. Consider this:

The critical light of history has been reflected in the contributions of novelists and critics, and of theorists of human rights. Social and political changes, in other words, followed the results of humanistic inquiry, and were intertwined with the reconciliatory efforts of the citizens of Coventry and Dresden. Even music and poetry played roles in this process: what history has taught us is reinforced by the lines from Wilfred Owen that Britten chose as the epigraph for his score — “My subject is war, and the pity of war. The poetry is in the pity. All a poet can do today is warn.” It is so easy to underrate the impact of the humanities and of the arts. Too many people, some of whom should know better, do it all the time. (emphasis added)

Yes, of course the arts and the humanities can have great cultural impact. Kitcher knows people who routinely deny that? Really? It’s just that I thought we were talking about “knowledge” not “cultural impact.” That’s why I like that bold face line. It was historians who produced the knowledge. The role of the arts was not knowledge production, but something more like consciousness raising or knowledge transmission. The arts are not about producing knowledge, but that is only a diss to the arts if you think knowledge production is the only valuable or important thing.

It would seem, then, that Kitcher is not really discussing “ways of knowing”. Considering the social context in which this argument often plays out, it is telling that he does not even mention religion at all. Kitcher’s real beef is with people who are disrespectful towards the humanities and the arts. Well, if a devotee of scientism is someone who makes blanket condemnations of anything that isn’t natural science then I would ask to be excused from their ranks. But that is not at all what I had been led to believe scientism was about.

This brings me to my most serious criticism of Kitcher’s article. I keep wondering who he’s arguing against. He does not provide a single quotation of anyone providing the blanket dismissals he assures us happen all the time. The usual whipping boys in this regard are E. O. Wilson and Alexander Rosenberg. Sadly, I have not read anything by either gentleman. I have seen Rosenberg quoted as saying that history is bunk, but I’d like to see the full context of that before commenting on it. I would also like to know what that means in practical terms. For example, does he think academic history departments should be eliminated?

Maybe there are people out there who take the extreme views Kitcher argues against, but I really don’t understand what all the hand-wringing is about. A handful of writers getting over-enthusiastic in their support of science hardly seems like evidence that some dangerous, blinding ideology is afoot. When I survey modern American culture, whether inside the academy or in society at large, I hardly think an excessive reliance on science is what we need to worry about just now.

Comments

  1. #1 Kel
    June 20, 2012

    I listened to a Philosophy TV discussion with Rosenberg last night talking about naturalism, and some of the comments really did fit with the view of scientism that other naturalists reject. It was very much that the humanities would found to be wanting when it was time to fit them into the model of reality that the natural sciences have been so successful in creating.

  2. #2 eric
    June 21, 2012

    Another clue tha Kitcher is probably not talking about ways of knowing comes in this earlier sentence: “The enthusiasm for natural scientific imperialism rests on five observations…”

    My bold. He seems to be saying, scientism = elevating the natural sciences above all other disciplines. Which has nothing to do with ways of knowing, but is a much more (mundane and eternal) academic argument about the value of various disciplines’ subject matter content to society.

    I won’t write more because I’m not sure commenting is fixed. :)

  3. #3 Ian Kemmish
    June 21, 2012

    ” If I said that someone trying to locate his missing car keys by retracing his steps was behaving scientifically, would anyone think I was abusing language?”

    Errrr, surely a scientist would construct a hypothesis about where the keys were (including a lost property office, for example), and then test that hypothesis?

    Someone just retracing their steps in the hope of finding something is doing “big data”, not science….

  4. #4 Jason Rosenhouse
    Harrisonburg, VA
    June 21, 2012

    eric –

    The comments seem to be working fine now, so have at it! Then again, the “Recent Comments” bar doesn’t seem to be updating properly. Grrrrr.

    Ian –

    A scientist would reason that his car keys must have been left someplace he had actually been. Then he would formulate a list of those places and test them in turn. Besides, collecting data is absolutely a big part of doing science.

  5. #5 Wow
    June 21, 2012

    More completely, collecting data is the method of proving science correct or incorrect.

    If you can’t collect data on a scenario being tested, how do you know if you have it wrong?

  6. #6 JimV
    June 21, 2012

    One of my favorite sayings about science (which I don’t think I stole from Freeman Dyson, but which he would agree with) is: the three most important things in science are data, data, and data.

    That is, not only are data used to test hypotheses, hypotheses should be generated after observing a lot of data – such as Darwin and finches, for example. The statement is an exaggeration, of course, but to me it is the main thing that distinguishes science from ideology and dogma. People who start with the latter can, and sometimes do, apply high-powered reasoning, but that doesn’t make the results scientific.

    Count me as a proud scientism-ist. To me it just means data(evidence)-based.

  7. #7 Wow
    June 21, 2012

    HeYou don’t need data to create a hypothesis.

    It’s merely easier to find a fruitful first attempt if you have some data to start.

    Note, one problem I have with the parroting of ‘correlation is not causation’ is that to test the causation you need to test the correlation. And to get a hypothesis that has some chance of being right, you’d be looking at a damn correlation and thinking “why the heck is THAT happening?” Makes the phrase to me merely proof someone is merely in denial of something

  8. #8 jane
    June 21, 2012

    I use “scientism” to refer to at least three occasionally seen attitudes. First, there is the attitude that facts and incidents only become “data” when observed by a person with formal training (or, for certain historical figures from only the “right” cultures, equivalent social status), or that only such persons can think rationally about what they observe. The implications of this opinion, at its extreme, are that past cultures had no science and therefore no knowledge of value, and that even most of the world’s population today generate no real knowledge and can only passively accept knowledge that is generated by others and spoon-fed to them.

    Second, there is the attitude that Science requires us to believe in certain things and disbelieve in others, regardless of data. Holders of this attitude sometimes imply that if actual small-s scientific studies contradict those beliefs, the data are wrong and the scientists who published them are incompetent or crooked. My pet peeve is those who object to favorable clinical trials of traditional medical practices, but the same attitude crops up in reference to many other subjects. For example, consider those revanchists who still insist that Science requires us to assume all nonhuman animals to be unthinking, unfeeling machines, in the face of not just extensive human experience to the contrary, but a mass of contrary data from modern neuroscience and ethology.

    Third, there is the attitude that even though science-as-process doesn’t really deal well at all with things that can’t be quantified, Science can and should be the ultimate source of authority on every aspect of human life, including philosophical questions and morality. See as an example Sam Harris, who thinks that neuroscientists in the Western tradition are specially equipped to dictate the best moral standards for all humans worldwide, but whose own behavior gives evidence that he thinks spewing Islamophobic rhetoric is morally acceptable.

  9. #9 Tom English
    Oklahoma City
    June 22, 2012

    Scientism is the denial of the very most obvious fact of epistemology, namely the primacy of subjective experience.

  10. #10 Wow
    June 22, 2012

    And that was merely an assertion by assertion, Tom.

    Try proving the primacy of subjective experience.

    If I’m hyped out on LSD and see visions, that is a subjective experience but not evidence of any truth. Other than I’m stoned.

  11. #11 Wow
    June 22, 2012

    “First, there is the attitude that facts and incidents only become “data” when observed by a person with formal training”

    OK, you’re the only one I see saying that. Since that is your attribution of others, this is you projecting yourself on to others.

    I.e. a claim about you.

    “Second, there is the attitude that Science requires us to believe in certain things and disbelieve in others, regardless of data”

    Nope, just you again.

    “Third, there is the attitude that…, Science can and should be the ultimate source of authority on every aspect of human life”

    And again, that’s you.

    In short, you’re complaining about something you made up.

    I call scientism the made-up monster-in-the-closet made by people who don’t have the intelligence to understand science and therefore have to make some caricature that they can cuddle to their breast to make them feel persecuted.

    And as every good faithiest knows, if you’re being persecuted, that PROVES you right!

  12. #12 eric
    June 22, 2012

    Jane, those are interesting observations. Are you sure you’re not attributing scientism to standard old Humean skepticism? I.e., people taking the position that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence?

    For sure, I think a lot of mainstream medical science is skeptical of early/initial claims about natural products. But I think that’s healthy (both figuratively and literally). The mainstream was also skeptical about bacteria causing ulcers, for example – demanding that novel hypotheses be subjected to rigorous testing before being accepted is how science works, and (IMO) natural products are not treated any different than anything else in this respect.

    On your second point, sort of agree and sort of don’t. I frankly think the concept of animals as automotons went out in the late 1800s, with Descartes. I simply don’t know anyone who fits your description in that respect. But, I think more and more metastudies are showing that there can be strong, funding-based biases in private pharmaceutical research. Company scientists “discover” results that
    support their own financial benefit or the company’s financial benefits more often than they scientifically should.
    I think your pet peeve has some merit, in that private companies are heavily biased against researching cures that they can’t patent.

    I’d somewhat agree with your third point. Scientists are a likely as anyone to fall for the naturalistic fallacy, and try and draw an ought from an is. I certainyl believe that good science should inform our public and social policy in areas like ethics, but you are right, science on its own rarely tells you what you should do about it. As one example: science can tell you that the oceans are rising. It can tell you what the impact will be on land use, weather, etc… It can give you the pros and cons of various mitigation strategies (including doing nothing). But selecting one of those mitigation strategies is a non-scientific decision, based on how you weight those pros vs. those cons. Is 1″ worth $1million (I’m just making up numbers here)? To some people it will be, to others, it won’t be – there is no “scientific” answer to that question.

  13. #13 Wow
    June 22, 2012

    “Scientists are a likely as anyone to fall for the naturalistic fallacy”

    How likely is that, though?

  14. #14 couchloc
    June 22, 2012

    I think people are working with too vague an understanding of the central notion in this discussion. The following article gives a nice account of what “scientism” is, as I understand it. Scientism is not simply thinking that science is very important in our culture or should be deferred to in certain matters, which most people accept. Scientism fundamentally concerns “an exaggerated trust in the efficacy of the methods of natural science applied to all areas of investigation (as in philosophy, the social sciences, and the humanities).” I think Kitcher is right that scientism is alive and well and can be found in many places.

    The article gives several, recent examples to consider:

    (1) Krauss’s dismissal of philosophy as not making any progress and his claim that recent cosmology has answered traditional philosophical questions about the origin of the universe. (I know Krauss later apologized sort of, but his attitude is indicative here.)

    (2) E. O. Wilson’s dismissal of all of Kant’s moral theory in a short paragraph, as if that were sufficient to refute one of the leading moral theories that exists today (and I’ll add his suggestion that ethics should be taken from philosophy and handed over to the biologists who’ll sort out these issues).

    (3) Pat Churchland’s enthusiasm for the view (and one would add Sam Harris here) that neuroscience is capable of answering traditional questions about ethics and morality.

    http://www.meetup.com/Philosophy-Workshop/events/66675832/

  15. #15 Wow
    June 22, 2012

    And does any such entity exist?

    I can claim a transendential creator of life made of pasta and meatballs, but just because I’ve defined it doesn’t say it exists.

    “(1) Krauss’s dismissal of philosophy as not making any progress”

    So where IS the progress in cosmology from philosophy?

    “and his claim that recent cosmology has answered traditional philosophical questions about the origin of the universe.”

    It’s answered more than philosophy has. Back to a tiny fraction of a second.

    What it HASN’T done that philosophy may have done is say that the answer they have is true, merely that it is the most plausible and supported by data so far.

    “(2) E. O. Wilson’s dismissal of all of Kant’s moral theory in a short paragraph, as if that were sufficient to refute one of the leading moral theories that exists today”

    And in less than a short paragraph, you’ve done the same.

    Really. Is E O Wilson not allowed to pooh-pooh Kant’s theory? People do that already to the people who proposed the steady-state theory of the universe. It’s what people do.

    “and I’ll add his suggestion that ethics should be taken from philosophy and handed over to the biologists who’ll sort out these issues”

    Are you saying that biological imperatives cannot have any answers in morality?

    Isn’t that anti-science-parading-like-scientism?

    “(3) Pat Churchland’s enthusiasm for the view that neuroscience is capable of answering traditional questions about ethics and morality”

    Are you saying it is definitely NOT capable? Nobody else has managed to answer traditional questions about ethics and morality to everyone’s satisfaction. So why not see what neuroscience has to say about it.

    And also note that these last two have differing offerings.

    One offers biology. The other offers neuroscience.

  16. #16 Wow
    June 22, 2012

    I notice that nobody defining what they see as scientism has used the definition on couchloc’s link yet:

    2. The belief that the assumptions, methods of research, etc. of the physical and biological sciences are equally appropriate and essential in all other disciplines including the humanities and the social sciences.

    Science’s assumptions: the universe is understandable.

    Well, if you don’t think study X is understandable then nothing will understand it. Not philosophy, not religion, not anything. So in attempting to understand or explain something, you’re admitting it has to be understandable.

    Science’s method of research: construct a hypothesis, create a test that should disprove that hypothesis if its false, collect data to see if the hypothesis is disproven. Refine or replace hypothesis until you can no longer prove the hypothesis right.

    Now, how else would you do it?

    Anyone?

    How would you test whether your explanation form any other method of knowing is correct (or, more importantly, whether it is WRONG)?

  17. #17 JollyRancher
    June 22, 2012

    I’ve always felt that when people talk of Scientism they are really making accusations towards the guilty party of harbouring a kind of philistinism, especially with regards to things like consciousness raising and whatnot you mentioned.

    For example, I seem to recall you praising Les Misreables as one of the finest books ever written. Now, I’ve never read it, but if someone were to say (or imply) that it was worthless beyond providing mere “entertainment” analogous to an extended session of eating chocolate cake, I presume you would find such a description hardly a worthy representation of its significance.

    I would imagine you wouldn’t disagree with saying that any work of art of comparable stature contributes a little more to the human condition, in a variety of ways. Perhaps by enmeshing the audience in a vivid portrayal of an event, such that it really brings it to life in a way that allows somebody to, for lack of a better word, “understand” what it means at an existential level rathern than simply, “know it” at a factual level.

    I mean, compare simply knowing, abstractly, that the Holocaust occured, and x number of people died, and it was for political reason y etc, versus engaging with what that means to both the individuals who suffered through it and how it affected the hopes and fears of humanity as a whole, by gorging yourself a bunch of Holocaust works from Schindler’s list to the diary of Anne Frank and beyond.

    I’m sure you would agree that someone who retorted that one could learn as much about the Holocaust by studying its more rigourously factual elements, would be totally missing the point of what such works of art are trying to convey, no?

    Or take the importance of engendering changes in one’s awareness, about any particular issue. Sometimes a great work of art or literature or philosophy or science or whatever, rather than answering something factual, provokes us to consider questions we might not even have been aware of before. Surely anything that provokes us to ask the right questions is just as important as that which allows us to get the right answers?

    Imagine anything that, via your exposure to it, manages to shake you up existentially speaking. Perhaps it forces you to question your lot in life, in light of what you have learned about yourself in terms of your values, and what you used to think you valued. Is that not a valuable thing in and of itself? Do you think you are more likely to have such an experience by problem solving to discover a particular fact about the world, or reflecting on what you know, or think you know, about the world already.

    Now, perhaps it might be said that of course the arts and humanities don’t become valueless simply because, for the most part, they don’t make a sweat of contributing to factual knowledge, and that nobody really believes that, and anything else is a strawman. There are two problems I have with that sort of response.

    Firstly, whatever the thought of the majority, there are certainly people(yes, Wilson and Rosenberg are two examples) who seem to think that the humanities should be “reduced” to biology, whatver that means. Given this, I can’t help but wonder if they are even aware of the importance of the arts and humanities quite apart from any attempt to construct a scientific model of the universe. Who the hell said that’s what they were for?

    Secondly, it does seem somewhat problematic to partition the intellectual world in to thos disciplines that provide “knowledge”, and those that provide “entertainment”, which, again, I often find defenders of Scientism apt to do, or at least I get that vibe from their writings.

    I suppose it shouldn’t be that much of a deal, for as you;ve pointed out, I doubt giving too much consideration to science is America’s biggest problem at the moment, but I can’t help but feel that reserving the word “knowledge”, with all the august airs that implies, to the sciences, while downplaying the importance of the arts/humanities, even if unintentionally, in obtaining any sort of self-understanding, and hence knowledge, if one is willing to stretch the word such, is what really ruffles the feathers of those making the accusation.

    Maybe it’s all just a miscommunication.

  18. #18 Wow
    June 22, 2012

    “I’m sure you would agree that someone who retorted that one could learn as much about the Holocaust by studying its more rigourously factual elements, would be totally missing the point of what such works of art are trying to convey, no?”

    No, I don’t think I agree here.

    If you only watched Schindler’s List, you would be horrified, but unable to know whether it was true. Watching the movie is a different thing from finding out the truth of it.

    Now, if you were to say “I believe Schindler’s list is true” and that was your only proof of the Holocaust, I would say that whilst you are genuinely outraged and horrified, you don’t know that you SHOULD be.

    It is also true that you may not be as emotionally affected by the cold hard proofs of the Holocaust as by, for example, watching Schindler’s List (or watching The World At War). And you would probably be safe in saying that that case would be applicable enough to be stated as “universally so”.

    To engage actions based on merely what made you emotional is to lead to things like the staged outrage the Muslims had over the Mohammed cartoons (they were told that they were all recently printed by Dutch newspapers and, if they had checked their facts, they would have seen that some were made up by the imams to offend and that the dutch newspapers had printed them many many months earlier).

  19. #19 Wow
    June 22, 2012

    “Secondly, it does seem somewhat problematic to partition the intellectual world in to thos disciplines that provide “knowledge”, and those that provide “entertainment””

    What would be problematic in that?

    Is it problematic that Fiction is in a different section in the library from History?

    Does anyone (other than ones making straw men) say that you can’t be entertained by facts? Or that you can’t be informed and entertained?

    Indeed the latter case has an official (if REALLY ugly IMO) word associated with it: infotainment.

    So, really, I don’t find anyone talking about “scientism” to be doing anything other than making things up to rail against.

    Much like the imams over the Mohammed cartoons.

  20. #20 Wow
    June 22, 2012

    “who seem to think that the humanities should be “reduced” to biology, whatver that means”

    Where did anyone say they SHOULD be reduced to biology?

    Again, a man of straw.

  21. #21 JollyRancher
    June 22, 2012

    Wow: “Where did anyone say they SHOULD be reduced to biology?”
    If you are referring to where anyone said that on this blog, then the answer is nowhere. However, if you mean in general who has said such things, then I refer you to E.O. Wilson’s Conscilience, and Alex Rosenberg’s The Atheist’s Guid To Reality for starters. There is no straw man here, since there is good reason why they are usually the whipping boys in these discussions. It may be the case that these gentleman are extremists with regards to the viewpoint in question, and, in fact, I think they most likely are in the minority, but given the fact that they are usually the whipping boy for this kind of debate, and the fact that these books do exists, should suggest to you that the accusation of scientism is not merely a bunch of people blowing hot air. They may be overeacting, but they are certainly REACTING, if only to extremists, not merely inventing terms and faliling at nothing in response to nothing.

    Wow:”What would be problematic in that?

    Is it problematic that Fiction is in a different section in the library from History?”

    This is cute, but nothing more, since it completely fails to engange with the issues I brought up. Of course there is nothing wrong with such a partition, but that’s because partitioning a bookstore into a section of Fiction and History, exhausts what is significant about the content of either section, where as simply dividing the entire world of human experience into factual knowledge and entertainment fails to do justice to its complexity. Someone who reads War and Peace, or visits the Sistine Chapel , or plays music with a sectarian enemy, thus finding commonality between eachother etc, would, I contend, be more likely to have a transformative experience with regards to how they view the world, there place in it, or what their ideal version of it might be etc, than someone eating a piece of cake, or playing tennis, no matter how “entertaining” or “fun” these latter activities might be.

    Wow:”Does anyone (other than ones making straw men) say that you can’t be entertained by facts? Or that you can’t be informed and entertained?”

    Nor did I claim one can’t be entertained by facts. I find quantum mechanics extremely amusing. Nor do I deny that facts can themselves be catalysts for self-examination, and personal transformation with regards to ones worldview. The point, instead, is that there is all the difference in the world between simply knowing a fact and being changed by one, or a work of art or whatever, in a way that profoundly alters someones awareness of some aspect of the world. I do not think that calling such transformations, brought about, be they the result of science, art, or whatever, entertainment, does justice to them. Going for a swim is entertaining, learning of the horrors of the Holocaust, would, I should hope, be, for lack of a better word, existentially rewarding in a way that going for a swim is not.

    Wow:”No, I don’t think I agree here.

    If you only watched Schindler’s List, you would be horrified, but unable to know whether it was true. Watching the movie is a different thing from finding out the truth of it.”

    Indeed, being horrified at Schindler’s List is not the same as knowing whether or not it is true. But, whether it is true or not, undergoing the experience of watching might easily force you to confront questions about the nature of hatred, the capacity for evil in every human heart, and what could possibly drive a whole nation insane such that events of such magnitude could come to pass. Perhpas you would also find yourself reflecting on what you would have done, if you had been a german at the time. Thus engendering a process of self-examination. Would you have succumbed to the urge of self-preservation, and refused to help those jews that might have been within your power to save, or would you have helped them, even at the risk of your own demise? Is that not an important function of art? Would you call it knowledge? Perhaps not, but it is certainly invaluable to know more about yourself, or even be aware of questions that you would not have considered before. That, to me, seems like a form of knowledge.

    The eptiome of knowledge hardly seems to me to be the collection of an abundance of inert facts. Is it more important, in general, to know arbitrary fact x, or to fully and completely and wholeheartedly realize the finititude of humanity in all its dimensions, and hence learn the virtue of intellectual honesty, which allows science to progress in the first place. This is not to say it is the humanites alone which engender such self-realization. Indeed, science itself has probably done a better job than anything else at pointing to our finitude. My point, however; namely, that any such realization is not merely an empirical fact, but rather a much more subtle development that takes place in the human mind itself, remains.

    Now, I am sure knowing that the Holocaust truly happened would no doubt influence how one recieved the film, and thus its power as a catalyst, but whatever degree of self-reflection it engenders, if you aren’t willing to call it self-knowledge, or increased awareness, or even simply an increased capacity to ask those kinds of existential questions, simply because the word knowlede is reserved for purely empirical factual claims, I would nevertheless suggest that to write off the arts and humanities or even science as simply being entertainment is a disservice to the beauty and majesty of all of those pursuits. Scientism in my book, if it is anything at all, is a philistinism, born of the inability to grasp the nuances of the human condition. It is more properly an attitude, rather than an epistemological position, as far as I can tell.

  22. #22 eric
    June 22, 2012

    Jolly,
    I’m not sure I get your point. Let’s say I meditate deeply, and have a vision of a snake biting its own tail. This changes my worldview on chemistry, and leads to remarkable new, concrete and irrefutable discoveries. Was that dream knowledge in its own right?

    Well, I think most people would say no. I doubt even philosophers would say yes. It was valuable for sure. It lead to knowledge. (If the example isn’t familiar to you, its historical; such a dream lead Kekule to the correct atomic structure for benzene.) But without the steps that followed the vision – testing, evaluation, etc… it was just a dream. Just an idea, an hypothesis.
    Likewise any thought about the ‘ finititude of humanity,’ or the ‘value of intellectual honesty,’ or what have you. Some great and deep ideas there. But if you don’t follow up your vision with some tests, some methodical investigation, how can you ever be sure what you’ve got is knowledge as opposed to baloney?

    Did you ever record yourself expounding ‘deep thoughts’ while drunk, high, or insomniac? In the sober light of morning, 99% of what you recorded probably fit the baloney category, didn’t it? All such meditations need that sober light of morning. When it comes to claims about the world, that sober light of morning is the scientific method.

  23. #23 Peter Beattie
    June 22, 2012

    This comment was made in a different context, but it still tries to clarify why talking about this in terms of ‘objective knowledge’ can be very helpful indeed.

  24. #24 Wow
    June 23, 2012

    Jolly, do you believe that eric *actually saw* a snake eating its own tail in a meditative trance?

    If not, why not?

  25. #25 Wow
    June 23, 2012

    “However, if you mean in general who has said such things, then I refer you to E.O. Wilson’s Conscilience… for starters.”

    No, that’s where I looked for a start, since someone was at least cogent enough to give someone’s name and a book title.

    It doesn’t say “you should be using science for this” or something that I can see as meaning that at all anywhere in there.

    “It may be the case that these gentleman are extremists with regards to the viewpoint in question,”

    It may be that you’re misreading what they wrote.

    If I were to say “It should be possible to get an answer as to why some moral precept appears by using biology” I have used “should” and “answer” and “moral precept” and biology.

    But I haven’t said you should only be using biology to answer morality questions.

  26. #26 Wow
    June 23, 2012

    “Nor did I claim one can’t be entertained by facts.”

    So why is it that you and others railing against “scientism” act as if this has been said?

    “Is it problematic that Fiction is in a different section in the library from History?”

    This is cute, but nothing more, since it completely fails to engange with the issues I brought up”

    Since the issues you brought up was that “it does seem somewhat problematic to partition the intellectual world in to thos disciplines that provide “knowledge”, and those that provide “entertainment””

    Therefore IT ABSOLUTELY DOES pertain to your assertion made without evidence.

    That you have tried to dodge it clearly indicates that you cannot say why and therefore your “problem” is a nonexistent maufactured controversy.

    So answer the question.

    I’ve posted questions separately so you can’t miss them.

  27. #27 Kevin
    June 23, 2012

    I believe the word “scientism” is intended to (critically) describe an implicit belief that all of one’s knowledge – including knowledge of humanity – derives from external observation, without reference to one’s own existence as a human being. A “scientistic” study of money, for example, would implicitly claim to derive its results without reference to the fact that “we all know” what money is for. A scientific study of gold, on the other hand, would be able to define “gold” objectively.

  28. #28 Wow
    June 23, 2012

    Why does it include “without reference to one’s own existence as a human being”?

    This is where I consider the “it is meant as CRITICISM, not for critical evaluation” proof lies.

    I observe I am a human being and I observe that I exist.

    “A “scientistic” study of money, for example, would implicitly claim to derive its results without reference to the fact that “we all know” what money is for”

    Uhm, how many ways of studying money require referencing what we all know money is for?

    Really. Nonsense here.

    If you study money, you have to know what it means, and since it is a construct of society, you’d be defining it what we use it for.

    In other words, what sort of “scientistic study of money” are you talking about?

    Or is this, like so much else, the null set?

    “A scientific study of gold, on the other hand”

    Did you mean scientistic?

    Because if not, then you’ve just changed two things. gold isn’t the same thing as money.

  29. #29 Nickmatzke
    June 23, 2012

    “It may be the case that these gentleman are extremists with regards to the viewpoint in question, and, in fact, I think they most likely are in the minority, but given the fact that they are usually the whipping boy for this kind of debate, and the fact that these books do exists, should suggest to you that the accusation of scientism is not merely a bunch of people blowing hot air. They may be overeacting, but they are certainly REACTING, if only to extremists, not merely inventing terms and faliling at nothing in response to nothing.”

    Considering that E.O. Wilson is perhaps the most famous and most important biologist that is currently living, and he effectively has a huge megaphone with which he promotes scientism in some instances, I don’t think it is overreacting at all to say (a) scientism exists, (b) it’s a problem with some reasonably significant proportion of (at least) popular science writers, and (c) here’s the problems with it.

  30. #30 Peter Beattie
    June 23, 2012

    » Nick Matzke:
    Considering that E.O. Wilson is perhaps the most famous and most important biologist that is currently living, and he effectively has a huge megaphone with which he promotes scientism in some instances, I don’t think it is overreacting at all to say (a) scientism exists, (b) it’s a problem with some reasonably significant proportion of (at least) popular science writers, and (c) here’s the problems with it.

    And I suppose you are aware, since you are talking about Wilson as though you know whereof you speak, that he makes the exact same argument as Kitcher does, in Consilience, p. 10:

    If the world really works in a way so as to encourge the consilience of knowledge, I believe the enterprises of culture will eventually fall out into science, by which I mean the natural sciences and the humanities, particularly the creative arts. These domains will be the two great branches of learning in the twenty-first century. The social sciences will continue to split within each of its disciplines, a process already rancorously begun, with one part folding into or becoming continuous with biology, the other fusing with the humanities. Its disciplines will continue to exist but in radically altered form. In the process the humanities, ranging from philosophy and history to moral reasoning, comparative religion, and interpretation of the arts, will draw closer to the sciences and partly fuse with them.

    Compare with Kitcher’s phrase: “The contrast between the methods of the two realms, which seems so damning to the humanities, is a false one.” As Jason says: “The thrust of Kitcher’s argument, on the other hand, is that natural scientists need to recognize that researchers in social science and the humanities are more like them than is sometimes recognized. I agree, as noted before, but that was precisely the point I raised in support of scientism.”

    Turns out, what Kitcher says one should do to avoid the dreaded ‘scientism’ is exactly what Wilson does. And maybe that will raise your awareness of the irrelevance of statements like “scientism exists” as long as one hasn’t carefully made clear what that word is supposed to mean.

  31. #31 Wow
    June 24, 2012

    “and he effectively has a huge megaphone with which he promotes scientism in some instances”

    He’s promoting what HE calls scientism.

    He’s not promoting what you and other antiscientists call scientism because, as I continually maintain, you’re making a caricature of the term to knock down, a caricature which contains no people, therefore can manage no actions and therefore doesn’t exist.

  32. #32 Verbose Stoic
    June 25, 2012

    Jason,

    If I said that someone trying to locate his missing car keys by retracing his steps was behaving scientifically, would anyone think I was abusing language?

    Yes … in much the same manner as if I said about the same person that they were behaving philosophically. Surely if I said that you’d balk, wouldn’t you?

    Domains of inquiry that do not fall under the umbrella of natural science produce knowledge by employing the same kind of methods scientists use. So why all the hand-wringing when someone says that science is the only way of knowing?

    Because it would be at least just as if not more accurate to say that science produces knowledge by employing the same kinds of methods that the other fields do. There is really no reason to insist or even say that science is the only way of knowing, especially considering that the natural sciences are, in fact, latecomers among almost all fields that produce knowledge.

  33. #33 Wow
    June 25, 2012

    “in much the same manner as if I said about the same person that they were behaving philosophically”

    No, for 99% of the english speaking world, if they’d been sitting down and say “well, it was inevitable that the keys would get lost now”, we’d say they were acting philosophically.

    “Because it would be at least just as if not more accurate to say that science produces knowledge by employing the same kinds of methods that the other fields do.”

    Please prove this.

    If the method was formalised in science first, then others would have taken off from that.

    Unless time runs backwards.

    “There is really no reason to insist or even say that science is the only way of knowing”

    But this is inconsistent with your earlier statement. If “the scientific method” is applied by all other methods of knowing, then since for 99% of the english speaking world “science” and “the scientific method” are the same thing, then you have already agreed that science is the only method of knowing (since all other methods are the same method).

  34. #34 jane
    June 25, 2012

    It just happens that my weekend pleasure reading was Mammography Screening: Truth, Lies and Controversy by Peter Gotzsche. This gentleman has co-authored a number of papers arguing, based on data, that the benefits of universal screening mammography are lower and the harms due to overdiagnosis much higher than has been generally believed. Well, as a result, he was heaped with abuse accusing him of being “unscientific” (for publishing statistical analyses of scientific data!) and of being too stupid, ignorant and/or wicked to deserve an opinion (where have I seen this type of “argument” recently?). As Gotzsche tells it, he was even told that it violated the rules of science for him to study outcomes using the measure of total mortality (i.e., to try to determine whether the number of women saved by early detection exceeded the number killed by needless radiotherapy). Now, there is no reason at all why small-s science (science as a set of quantitative investigatory methods) cannot be applied to such a question. Rather, a value judgement that one should not ask it was being made. In my interpretation (not Gotzsche’s, please note), his critics used Science as a sort of substitute deity that commands people to believe in certain facts and values and forbids the production of contradictory research, precisely as the Christian deity was said to forbid uncensored research into astronomy during the Middle Ages in Catholic Europe.

  35. #35 Wow
    June 25, 2012

    “accusing him of being “unscientific” (for publishing statistical analyses of scientific data!)”

    If the data is fabricated, that’s unscientific.

    If he’s not attempted to show that his theory is not disproved by the data, that’s unscientific.

    If he’s ignoring data that disproves his theory, that’s unscientific.

    If his conclusion doesn’t follow on from his data, that’s unscientific.

    Without both the paper, the data, and the criticisms, we can’t tell if you’re right or wrong. And that’s you being unscientific too!

    “he was even told that it violated the rules of science for him to study outcomes using the measure of total mortality”

    And we are to take your word for it, why?

    As far as I’ve been able to tell, this sort of study has happened multiple times on other processes for early diagnosis. NONE of them got binned for using the measure of total mortality.

    Wargames run by generals, and indeed military tactics are run this way.

    As are most prescriptions of treatments and the trials for those treatments.

  36. #36 Anonymous
    June 25, 2012

    Eric,
    I think perhaps you may be, inadvertently, painting my position as being a little more new agey or whatever than the point I’m actually trying to get across, which is rather much simpler than that we can gain knowledge of facts in virtue of revelation, or altered states or whatever. That is not what I am saying. So no, I do not think that simply having a vision of the sort you described is knowledge in and of itself, in spite of the fact that it may indeed LEAD to knowledge.

    Let me try and unpack something a little by example that might better illustrate what I am getting at. I’m sure you would agree that you don’t know everything there is to know about everything, right? Well, suppose I were to ask you, how is it that you know that you don’t know? Would you say you performed an experiment, after making observations, and made the proper inferences? I doubt it. Rather, you are merely AWARE of your lack of knowledge, simply in virtue of not having it, and this lack of knowledge on your part is a matter of empirical fact itself, right? It can be true or false that you know everything, just like any other fact can be true or false, and it is this AWARENESS of what is the case which constitutes knowledge, rather than the facts themselves which are known.

    Now, it is because that knowing is an act of the mind, that I feel there may be other avenues to knowledge apart from standard scientific methodology (narrowly considered), because the domain of discourse which we can have knowledge OF, isn’t strictly limited to inert empirical facts of the kind science investigates (or is needed to investigate).

    Another example might be illustrative. Imagine, on account of whatever stimulus, be it scientific or humanistic, you come to pose an completely original question, that you find is fully intelligible within a particular theoretical framework, and which had never been considered before. By doing so, are you not becoming AWARE of, and hence knowing, something; namely, that such a question is worth posing and investigating? And worth it in the sense in that it might actually be true, although you don’t yet know that yet, only that it might be. Not worth it in any personal sense. Simply being aware of such a question AS A VALId QUESTION, as opposed to incoherent etc…would count as knowledge in my book.

    Now, this might not be an increase in our knowledge of the empirical realm itself per se; however, I would certainly say it constitutes a form of knowledge, even if it is only pragmatically useful as an intermediary towards knowledge of empirical fact.

    In short, I find that the most intelligible reconstruction of the accusation of Scientism I can make, is that one guilty of such, is in some sense unduly narrowing the domain of discourse of knowledge

    Another example: Knowledge of what it is like to undergo something from the first person point of view is, to my ears at least, unless someone stretches the definition of science, radically unscientific. Some things can only be known by direct experience, and given that the importance of intersubject verification of what seems to be the case, in fact actually is the case, in scientific methodology can not be understated, then that which can be known only though undergoing it personally, sounds to me, to be at its core, unscientific. Note: my turn of phrase about experience is not meant as a spiringboard for magical talk about communion with spirits or anything like that. I mean it literally, in that some everyday, ordinary facts about the world are derivable only from undergoing the experience in question. My knowledge of a violin playing G sharp comes from hearing it, and no matter how detailed a description of sound waves or brain matter is going to tell me that it is phenomenologically the case that G sharp sounds like THis rather than like THAT. The scientific knowledge gleaned via experiment, and observation etc of the note G sharp, about its frequency, how it’s made and everything else is perfectly legitimate, in that one can be made AWARE of these things, but one can also be made perfectly AWARE of, in the knowledge sense, G sharp simply by listening to it as well, without the need to test it or anything else.

    Finally, I should say why I find any of these distinctions worth writing about, and that they are not simply asinine or so trivial that they are beyond worth mentioning.
    I’m concerned that too many people, in my experience at least, seem to be intent on shrinking the world so that science can accommodate it, out of some fear that if it can’t handle it completely, then that will somehow leave room for the religious or superstitious or whatever to muscle their way in. It doesn’t. But what it does do, is trivialize the importance of recognizing that science is a SUBSET of a broader human undertaking; namely, understanding the world, by WHATEVER means are appropriate to the task in question, whether they are scientific narrowly construed, broadly construed, or not at all. A lack of respect for this fact is detrimental to the studious application of appropriate methodology, which only leads to people getting stuck in an intellectual rut because they are afraid to acknowledge the obvious(Behaviourism anyone?), or overextending their methodological reach (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Science_of_morality), or simply trading genuine enlightening discourse, for more “scientific” explanations(A.S. Byat’s neruo-litcrit).

  37. #37 JollyRancher
    June 25, 2012

    Eric,
    I think perhaps you may be, inadvertently, painting my position as being a little more new agey or whatever than the point I’m actually trying to get across, which is rather much simpler than that we can gain knowledge of facts in virtue of revelation, or altered states or whatever. That is not what I am saying. So no, I do not think that simply having a vision of the sort you described is knowledge in and of itself, in spite of the fact that it may indeed LEAD to knowledge.

    Let me try and unpack something a little by example that might better illustrate what I am getting at. I’m sure you would agree that you don’t know everything there is to know about everything, right? Well, suppose I were to ask you, how is it that you know that you don’t know? Would you say you performed an experiment, after making observations, and made the proper inferences? I doubt it. Rather, you are merely AWARE of your lack of knowledge, simply in virtue of not having it, and this lack of knowledge on your part is a matter of empirical fact itself, right? It can be true or false that you know everything, just like any other fact can be true or false, and it is this AWARENESS of what is the case which constitutes knowledge, rather than the facts themselves which are known.

    Now, it is because that knowing is an act of the mind, that I feel there may be other avenues to knowledge apart from standard scientific methodology (narrowly considered), because the domain of discourse which we can have knowledge OF, isn’t strictly limited to inert empirical facts of the kind science investigates (or is needed to investigate).

    Another example might be illustrative. Imagine, on account of whatever stimulus, be it scientific or humanistic, you come to pose an completely original question, that you find is fully intelligible within a particular theoretical framework, and which had never been considered before. By doing so, are you not becoming AWARE of, and hence knowing, something; namely, that such a question is worth posing and investigating? And worth it in the sense in that it might actually be true, although you don’t yet know that yet, only that it might be. Not worth it in any personal sense. Simply being aware of such a question AS A VALId QUESTION, as opposed to incoherent etc…would count as knowledge in my book.

    Now, this might not be an increase in our knowledge of the empirical realm itself per se; however, I would certainly say it constitutes a form of knowledge, even if it is only pragmatically useful as an intermediary towards knowledge of empirical fact.

    In short, I find that the most intelligible reconstruction of the accusation of Scientism I can make, is that one guilty of such, is in some sense unduly narrowing the domain of discourse of knowledge

    Another example: Knowledge of what it is like to undergo something from the first person point of view is, to my ears at least, unless someone stretches the definition of science, radically unscientific. Some things can only be known by direct experience, and given that the importance of intersubject verification of what seems to be the case, in fact actually is the case, in scientific methodology can not be understated, then that which can be known only though undergoing it personally, sounds to me, to be at its core, unscientific. Note: my turn of phrase about experience is not meant as a spiringboard for magical talk about communion with spirits or anything like that. I mean it literally, in that some everyday, ordinary facts about the world are derivable only from undergoing the experience in question. My knowledge of a violin playing G sharp comes from hearing it, and no matter how detailed a description of sound waves or brain matter is going to tell me that it is phenomenologically the case that G sharp sounds like THis rather than like THAT. The scientific knowledge gleaned via experiment, and observation etc of the note G sharp, about its frequency, how it’s made and everything else is perfectly legitimate, in that one can be made AWARE of these things, but one can also be made perfectly AWARE of, in the knowledge sense, G sharp simply by listening to it as well, without the need to test it or anything else.

    Finally, I should say why I find any of these distinctions worth writing about, and that they are not simply asinine or so trivial that they are beyond worth mentioning.
    I’m concerned that too many people, in my experience at least, seem to be intent on shrinking the world so that science can accommodate it, out of some fear that if it can’t handle it completely, then that will somehow leave room for the religious or superstitious or whatever to muscle their way in. It doesn’t. But what it does do, is trivialize the importance of recognizing that science is a SUBSET of a broader human undertaking; namely, understanding the world, by WHATEVER means are appropriate to the task in question, whether they are scientific narrowly construed, broadly construed, or not at all. A lack of respect for this fact is detrimental to the studious application of appropriate methodology, which only leads to people getting stuck in an intellectual rut because they are afraid to acknowledge the obvious(Behaviourism anyone?), or overextending their methodological reach (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Science_of_morality), or simply trading genuine enlightening discourse, for more “scientific” explanations(A.S. Byat’s neruo-litcrit).

  38. #38 JollyRancher
    June 25, 2012

    Uhhh, yeah, sorry for the double post, the original didn’t show up fast enough so I thought it didn’t go because I had forgotten to put in my name.

  39. #39 JollyRancher
    June 25, 2012

    Wow:”Jolly, do you believe that eric *actually saw* a snake eating its own tail in a meditative trance?

    If not, why not?”

    I don’t know what you mean by this. Actually saw it as opposed to what? Fake saw it?

    Wow:”If I were to say “It should be possible to get an answer as to why some moral precept appears by using biology” I have used “should” and “answer” and “moral precept” and biology.

    But I haven’t said you should only be using biology to answer morality questions.”

    Indeed, but if you tried to extract an answer based on strict infrences from observed data you would be overextending your reach by utilizing a methodology ill-equipped to deal with the type of question being asked. Of course, that it not say data can’t be usefull, but it can;t be the sole arbiter, like it would be in an actually scientific field.

    Wow:”Since the issues you brought up was that “it does seem somewhat problematic to partition the intellectual world in to thos disciplines that provide “knowledge”, and those that provide “entertainment””

    Therefore IT ABSOLUTELY DOES pertain to your assertion made without evidence.”

    No, it doesn’t, unfortunately, because your response contains implicit assumptions that I am in fact questioning.
    Namely, that you already know which disciplines constitute those capable of granting knowledge, and those which don’t, and it is merely a matter of partition them in a way analogus way to History and Fiction. I am claiming such a partitioning is no good at all, because ALL intellectual disciplines have something to contribute in terms of knowledge. Which is why carving them up in terms of knowledge and entertainment is ridiculous, since it is intriniscally a mixed bag. You have simply re-terated your assumptions with the previous statement.

  40. #40 Wow
    June 25, 2012

    I mean exactly wat I said, Jolly.

    Do you believe Eric ‘s statement? If not, why.

  41. #41 Wow
    June 25, 2012

    Anon, that doesn’t mean there’s another way of knowing. You’vejust culled your mind to see what it contains.

    Nothing more.

    How do you get to believing there’s another way of knowing from that?

  42. #42 Wow
    June 25, 2012

    We DO know of one method that gives knowledge: science.

    You wish to claim it can’t? Show where and how.

  43. #43 jane
    June 25, 2012

    Wow – Do you not see that you’ve just reacted with the exact sort of scientistic attitude I objected to? If a real publishing scientist’s data challenge Science’s orthodoxy, why, he’s probably a fraudster or at the very best incompetent. He’s Unscientific, according to you and to the critics whose published statements were cited in the book I reference. To be presumed properly Scientific, he would have had to get results that do not contradict the prescribed dogma. And moreover, merely making reference to heretical books and journal publications makes me Unscientific too.

    It so happens that one of my major goals is to live so as to be considered an untermensch by men like you, so the fact that you argue against my opinions largely by ad hominems does not particularly displease me. But I am displeased by the possibility that the whole enterprise of science will be put at risk in future by negative public attitudes created in large part by the arrogance of self-appointed preachers of Science such as you. The public tolerated contradictions between traditional faith and science rather well as long as science and technology were making their lives constantly better. But now, Science as religion is notably failing to meet Americans’ needs (in the field of medicine, to refer back to the most recent example I offered, ever more screening, testing and fear is plainly not increasing the sum total of human happiness) and people are increasingly turning elsewhere for answers to life’s big questions. Being told that they are stupid and bad for doing so will not change their minds when, as with the modern Church, there is no means of inflicting actual punishment upon them.

  44. #44 JollyRancher
    June 25, 2012

    Wow:”I mean exactly wat I said, Jolly.”

    I’m sure you did, but that doesn’t clarify my question with regards to what *really seeing* a snake means. I wasn’t aware that there was any other kind of seeing apart from the real kind. If there is, please, by all means, enlighten me.

    Wow:”We DO know of one method that gives knowledge: science.

    You wish to claim it can’t? Show where and how.”

    No one is claiming it can’t, what they are claiming is that not it, and it alone, can provide knowledge, but that other methodologies can as well.

    Wow:”How do you get to believing there’s another way of knowing from that?”

    Think of it this way: there are different methodologies for acquiring knowledge according to the different sets of things to be known. Math and logic rely on apriori reasoning,(unless you think studying fossil samples will solve Goldbach’s Conjecture?), phenemenological facts require personal experience, third person natural phenomena require your standard scientific method, knowing HOW to do something is a mixed bag between practice/data collection/personal experience (not your standard scientific methodology), and realizing(and thus KNOWING) you’ve made a mistake or uncovering hidden assumptions can be made explicit by a good does of criticism or conceptual analysis.

    There are plenty of ways by which knowledge can be obtained apart from science, simply because the domain of discourse to which knowledge acquisition applies is broader than what science studies. The reason most people seem to think standard scientific methodology is the be all end is that it has explained SO MANY things, but this shouldn’t surprise us, since they all fall under the same category of third-person natural phenomenan. No one is surprised that apriori reasoning keeps churning out mathematical-logical results. How else would you do it? Similarly, there should be no surprise that science does really good at explaining the world we live in; that’s what it is for. The more important point to recognize, is that knowledge isn’t limited to empirical facts about the world. There is also the domains of mathematics,logic,phenemenology,know-how,morality(if you buy into that),higher-order knowledge of your own mental states etc…Whether these domains are properly part of the world or not, doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of providing something worth knowing.

    Anyway, I figure I’ve taken enough space up on this topic, so that if this doesn’t do anything for you, then I don’t have much more to say. Good Day Sirs!

  45. #45 Wow
    June 26, 2012

    OK, so there isn’t a way to know things for you, there’s only a way to know nothing.

    You know, for all the whining about how ‘ there’s another way of knowing’ , none of you saying it knows what it is, how you do it or how it works. Never mind IF it works.

    You’re just nihilists, insisting science is inadequate with nothingto replace it with.

    This ‘other way of knowing’ seems to be merely a way for the faithiests to say ‘I know god exists’ without having to say why.

  46. #46 Wow
    June 26, 2012

    Jane, do you realise you’ve said absolutely nothing at all? All you’ve done is complain. Nothing about what you’re complaining about, just complaining.

    Try, for a start, by saying what is wrong and why, as opposed to just proclaiming it’s the same thing you’re complaining about. Why should anyone else care if you’re complaining? What, in essense, is wrong enough for someone to change?

    Just your unhappiness with it is no reason for anyone to care or change.

  47. #47 jane
    June 26, 2012

    Wow – I can’t quite follow that rant. I have made my position clear. One thing that is wrong is that Science is used by some as an idol to attempt to suppress the results of actual science. That is wrong because the progress of knowledge and wisdom (if I dare use such an Unscientific word) is needlessly slowed.

    Another thing that is wrong is that some people pretend knowledge can be generated almost exclusively by certain special people with certain credentials, and other people are too stupid to observe and think. This is demonstrably untrue. And the reason this is wrong, aside from the fact that it distorts history and insults the vast majority of humanity, is that we live in a democracy, and voters who feel that they are held in contempt by a technocratic elite will vote for teabagging politicians who promise to cut off science funding. And that is bad, Wow, because then all of us lose things that may lengthen or enhance our lives, like volcano monitoring and objective epidemiological research.

    In the long term, I fear for the very preservation of formal science in our culture. (People throughout the world will continue to observe, think and learn as humans have done for millennia, no matter what we do.) If we had said that the useful mental tools of logic could be used only by a tiny elite, they might well have been forgotten long ago. Likewise, if we portray the useful mental tools of science as methods used only by an elite (especially an increasingly distrusted elite), the whole concept risks being rejected by the culture at large. Tell people making ordinary small-scale observations that they’re using science and encourage them in doing so, and they might think more of science. Instead, they more often see Science used as a club to beat them over the head when they express an opinion that someone who has (or wants to be believed to have) more degrees than them does not share.

  48. #48 Wow
    June 26, 2012

    “I have made my position clear.”

    And I made that clear too. You’re complaining. Nothing more.

    “One thing that is wrong is that Science is used by some as an idol to attempt to suppress the results of actual science”

    Nope. It isn’t.

    You have to show that statement has some truth to it. You, at the moment, haven’t.

    In fact you’ve been whining about me saying one scientist is a fraud while YOU have been calling ALL scientists frauds! THAT is how braindead your complaint is.

    Worse, I’ve not called him a fraud. I’ve said he could be wrong. Not is, could. Not a fraud, just wrong.

    I even gave several ways he could be wrong.

    Did you consider whether his paper was rejected because it wasn’t of high enough quality to publish? Ever? Once?

    No, instead you call EVERY scientist a fraud.

    And now you’re making baseless claims that scientists “suppress the results of actual science”.

    What you claim is the reason for the refusal to publish is FALSE because there is evidence to the contrary. Here is one:

    Cold Fusion.

    Published. Wrong.

    So your claim is refuted by actual experience.

    “some people pretend knowledge can be generated almost exclusively by certain special people with certain credentials”

    That’s another baseless statement winnowed out from your subconscious.

    “and other people are too stupid to observe and think”

    And have YOU thought about why that person didn’t get published, or are you too stupid to observe that papers have been refused publication because they were wrong and think that it is worth investigating whether your martyr is wrong too?

    No. You haven’t.

    “and insults the vast majority of humanity”

    You have no problems whatsoever in insulting all scientists, though.

    Why? Because you hate science because it won’t let you be wrong.

  49. #49 jane
    June 26, 2012

    Wow, Wow. This discussion is over, since you’re not only a liar, but such an incompetent liar that it’s too difficult to talk to you.. Not only did I never suggest that all scientists are frauds, since I am employed as a scientist – unlike you, I rather suspect – the rules of logic (another way of knowing!) would make such a claim harmful to my own interests. Further, the gentleman of whom I spoke has multiple papers in BMJ, The Lancet, and other peer-reviewed journals; I don’t know why you pretended to know that the heretical work by himself and others was unpublished. Perhaps because you presume that the purpose of peer review is to screen out not incompetence but dissent? Anyway, I can fairly conclude from that that you are just as delusional as anyone who randomly generates false statements of fact to prop up his belief in the dogmas of a more conventional religion. There is no possibility of arguing with such a person, since you effectively reject empirical facts as a basis for argument.

  50. #50 Wow
    June 26, 2012

    Nope, not a liar.

    This is where you claim all scientists are frauds:

    “This gentleman has co-authored a number of papers …. Well, as a result, he was heaped with abuse accusing him of being “unscientific” ”

    Now, since he hasn’t managed to publish ANYWHERE, nor get anyone else to agree with him, you’re saying ALL the other scientists are frauds.

    “I am employed as a scientist ”

    Well, you fooled your employer.

    Meanwhile, here is what I said about his work (not him, his work):

    If the data is fabricated, that’s unscientific.

    If he’s not attempted to show that his theory is not disproved by the data, that’s unscientific.

    If he’s ignoring data that disproves his theory, that’s unscientific.

    If his conclusion doesn’t follow on from his data, that’s unscientific.

    And now you’ve brought out a lot of new stuff that doesn’t support anything you’ve said. NONE of that stuff means he’s got that paper right.

    There’s no possibility of you making an argument, is there. Because you don’t make a case for your proposition, that’s FAR too much work.

    You just rant and shout and whine.

  51. #51 Wow
    June 26, 2012

    Peter had discarded 6 of the 8 studies his paper was on.

    Does that make him a science fraud because he discarded these papers as his paper was discarded?

    And there was no reason given for the retraction of the pre-print release (you didn’t tell us that, did you Jane), so where is your evidence for the reason YOU claimed it was withdrawn?

    Lastly, why was it never given to another journal? Looks to me like Peter isn’t too sure of his work, either.

    Fred Singer used to write papers that were significant too.

    Not all of them were worth printing.

  52. #52 eric
    June 27, 2012

    Jolly:

    Well, suppose I were to ask you, how is it that you know that you don’t know? Would you say you performed an experiment, after making observations, and made the proper inferences? I doubt it. Rather, you are merely AWARE of your lack of knowledge, simply in virtue of not having it, and this lack of knowledge on your part is a matter of empirical fact itself, right?

    In the vernacular sense of know, yes. In a more philosophical sense, no. My more philosophical answer is that I don’t know my internal awareness of my knowledge-state is accurate unless I do some external, objective check on it. For most of us under most circumstances, we are right enough of the time that the cost (in time and effort) of verifying our accuracy is not worth it. But it is certainly possible for people’s internal awareness of what they don’t know to be wrong. Probably the most spectacular example is when someone’s corpus callosum is cut and the two halves of the brain operate semi-independently. In such cases, one hand can literally write an answer to a question that your conscious mind doesn’t know…and write the correct answer while you are telling people a wrong answer.
    Far less spectacular examples are illustrated, for example, in the book How to Measure Anything. A whole section of that book discusses (1) tests designed to measure the accuracy of your internal awareness of what you know, and don’t know, and (2) exercises you can do to improve your understanding of what you know when your mere awareness is badly wrong.

    Another example might be illustrative. Imagine, on account of whatever stimulus, be it scientific or humanistic, you come to pose an completely original question, that you find is fully intelligible within a particular theoretical framework, and which had never been considered before. By doing so, are you not becoming AWARE of, and hence knowing, something; namely, that such a question is worth posing and investigating?

    Absolutely not. You yourself point out that we must know that it’s a valid question before we can say that posing it has provided knowledge. But you can’t know if its valid just by posing it. It is perfectly possible for humans to construct questions that might seem valid until we test them. Does the luminferous ether move, or is it stationary?

    Some things can only be known by direct experience, and given that the importance of intersubject verification of what seems to be the case, in fact actually is the case, in scientific methodology can not be understated, then that which can be known only though undergoing it personally, sounds to me, to be at its core, unscientific.

    Sure, direct sense experience gives me data that is not available (to humans) any other way. But do you want to say data reception counts as knowledge? Isn’t that just defining ‘experiencing’ as a subset of ‘knowing?’
    Certainly, the scientific method is not the only way of experiencing. But I do not think people like Jason or Jerry Coyne are claiming that. So you can’t really accuse them of scientism because the very expansive definition of ‘knowing’ is not the definition they’re using it in their claim; they are not claiming what you are accusing them of claiming.

  53. #53 Wow
    June 27, 2012

    “But you can’t know if its valid just by posing it. It is perfectly possible for humans to construct questions that might seem valid until we test them”

    Here’s a question:

    What is the difference between a duck’s legs?

    As Ta’lon said: All answers are replies, but not all replies are answers.

    And there is a question you cannot answer.

  54. #54 Wow
    June 27, 2012

    “Isn’t that just defining ‘experiencing’ as a subset of ‘knowing?’”

    And isn’t Jolly conflating all sorts of synonyms for know?

    Lot “knew” his wife. I.e. shagged her.
    The besieged citizens wanted to “know” who these newcomers were (if xtian:shagging again, they’re damn obsessed. otherwise, wanting to know who they were)
    You can know kung fu (learn it)
    You can know right from wrong (opinion)
    You can know fairies exist (hallucination/deception)
    You can know it didn’t work (negative knowledge)
    You can know it works (positive knowledge)

    Now what form of knowing does Jolly and all the xtian fundies want to use?

  55. #55 JollyRancher
    June 27, 2012

    Eric,

    I can’t help but feel the inadequacy of language to clearly convey ideas is making itself felt. Nevertheless, I suppose I’ll try one more time, since I can’t escape the impression you’re misunderstanding me, or maybe we are just starting from foundational assumptions that are too different.

    Eric:”In the vernacular sense of know, yes. In a more philosophical sense, no. My more philosophical answer is that I don’t know my internal awareness of my knowledge-state is accurate unless I do some external, objective check on it.”

    You’re treating your awareness as a representation of your knowledge state which can be true or false, when I am claiming your awareness IS your knowledge state. One does not have knowledge that one’s awareness is accurate or not, one’s knowing IS that awareness. Awareness is not like a belief, in that it can be justified or not, and in the end turn out to be false. One does not ask, are you justified in being aware of x? One either is, or is not. This is why radical skepticism can always be used to argue the defeasibility of even the most staunchly supported claims, since our BELIEF that our awareness is an accurate representation can be questioned, but our awareness of things is not properly speaking a representation of anything, except perhaps the external world, which is why it can be questioned. They don’t(skeptical arguments) however have any persuasive power over the most intimate forms of knowledge, such as my knowledge that there is thinking occurring at this moment. A la Descartes, everything else about the world could be false, but not that there is thought going on, because the question of whether or not thought is occurring has no truck with justification, or its ilk, it is simply present, and thus known in virtue of its being present.
    Eric:” For most of us under most circumstances, we are right enough of the time that the cost (in time and effort) of verifying our accuracy is not worth it.”
    If I were to ask you how many quarters I have in my pocket, and you responded “I don’t know”, and I were to ask, how do you know you don’t know, and you were to say,”I don’t”, it would be tantamount to saying you do not know the answer to the question, although actually, you might. But this could just as easily be applied to your knowledge of your lack of knowledge about your own knowledge. You SAY you don’t know your internal awareness of your knowledge is accurate without some outside check, but how do you know you don’t know that you don’t know? Maybe you DO know that you don’t know, you just don’t know that you know you don’t know. Moreover, even with an outside check, one can easily ask, how do you know that you now know that you don’t know? Maybe your current state of knowing, however you got there, is wrong. Either way, the threat of infinite regression rears its ugly head, which is why one has to treat knowledge as a more primeval act of the mind, or else any standard which you might use for verification purposes completely falls apart.

    Eric:” In such cases, one hand can literally write an answer to a question that your conscious mind doesn’t know…and write the correct answer while you are telling people a wrong answer.”
    The key here is the phrase conscious mind. Normally, we judge what people know on account of what their bodies tell us verbally or linguistically etc.., but when an individual’s mind is split in two, such that there are two streams of consciousness present(or one merely denied certain inputs), then it makes perfect sense to say that one stream really doesn’t know the answer, in precisely the same way that just because I don’t know something doesn’t mean that you don’t, just because the left half of the brain doesn’t know something doesn’t mean the right half won’t(or have the appropriate outputs which would correspond to such knowledge if it were conscious.)

    Eric:” But you can’t know if its valid just by posing it. It is perfectly possible for humans to construct questions that might seem valid until we test them.”
    I agree that simply posing a question does not make it valid, which is why I added the caveat:” that you find is fully intelligible within a particular theoretical framework”. What I’m claiming is that REALIZING it can be validly posed is where it provides new knowledge, not simply the act of posing it itself. Likewise, learning that something CANNOT be posed within a framework, and not merely posing an invalid question, is what gives knowledge. Asking what are the elements in the set of all sets that are not members of themselves, does not provide knowledge, but realizing that it is a completely incoherent question is, simply because you become aware of something which previously eluded you, even though one has not discovered an empirical fact about the world, or proved a relationship between abstract ideas or logical relations.

    Eric:” But do you want to say data reception counts as knowledge? Isn’t that just defining ‘experiencing’ as a subset of ‘knowing?’”
    Yes, on both counts. My whole point is that any definition of knowledge which is exhausted by saying it can be reached via scientific methodology is far too narrow to do justice to what knowing something really means. If I ask is it the case that all bananas are less than a meter long, and we collect data that says it is in fact the case, without any sort of theoretical explanation, you’ve already increased your knowledge, in the sense that you are now aware of what is the case. Likewise, with personal experience, to know what it means to say that some things are red; that is, to be aware that it is the case some things are red, as opposed to blue, one needs to know of the existence of blueness and redness tout court.

    Eric:” Certainly, the scientific method is not the only way of experiencing. But I do not think people like Jason or Jerry Coyne are claiming that.”
    With regards to experience, I believe you’re correct, but would they define it as knowledge, and if not why not? Does it matter, or is it mere pedantry? I think it does, for the simple reason that overvaluing the wrong thing in certain circumstances can lead to bad outcomes, intellectually speaking, especially with regards to the studious application of the right method to the appropriate problem.
    Anyway, if that does nothing to clarify where I’m coming from, then I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

  56. #56 Wow
    June 28, 2012

    You can claim all you want.

    If I say you’re wrong, how can you tell I’m incorrect?

  57. #57 eric
    June 28, 2012

    Jolly:

    You’re treating your awareness as a representation of your knowledge state which can be true or false, when I am claiming your awareness IS your knowledge state. [later in post:] The key here is the phrase conscious mind. Normally, we judge what people know on account of what their bodies tell us verbally or linguistically etc.., but when an individual’s mind is split in two, such that there are two streams of consciousness present(or one merely denied certain inputs)…

    There are not ‘two streams of consciousness’ present. There is only one. The person is literally unaware of what their hand is writing. In fact I think the people in these experiments were literally unaware that their hand was writing anything at all. ‘What you are aware of’ is simply is not equivalent to ‘what you know.’

    the threat of infinite regression rears its ugly head, which is why one has to treat knowledge as a more primeval act of the mind, or else any standard which you might use for verification purposes completely falls apart.

    If someone wants to do that, then they can’t really accuse Jason, Jerry, or pretty much anyone else of scientism, since you are now talking about a definition of ‘knowing’ that they probably agree can be arrived at via nonscientific methods.

    I agree that simply posing a question does not make it valid, which is why I added the caveat:” that you find is fully intelligible within a particular theoretical framework”.

    Your caveat solves nothing. My luminiferous aether question was fully intelligble within the dominant scientific framework of the 1700s/early 1800s. But yet, we cannot really say that simply thinking up/posing such a question provided any 18th century scientist with knowledge. If they got any knowledge out of that question, it was because they did experiments as a result of posing the question and gained knowledge from those experiments. Which is exactly the process I defended in my June 22 response to you.

    Anyway, if that does nothing to clarify where I’m coming from, then I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

    I think I understand where you’re coming from. Kitcher is accusing people of scientism – i.e. the belief that science is the only way of knowing. Jason (and others) are defending scientism AS LONG AS science is defined in a fairly broad, methodoligical sense. You enter the discussion and seem to want to make the point that (in your opinion, and I’m liberally paraphrasing here) everyone in the discussion is using a wrong definition of “knowing.” As a second point, you imply that if we adopt your definition of ‘knowing,’ there are nonscience ways of knowing.

    Okay, I tentatively agree with your second point – if we adopt a different definition of ‘knowing,’ then we can say that there are nonscientific ways of knowing. But so what? That does not address the original question about scientisim and whether there are other ways of knowing the way Jason and Kitcher are using that word.

    If you are right, then the conclusion from all of the above is that there are no scientismists, because frankly, nobody probably thinks science is the only way of knowing the way you define knowing.

  58. #58 Wow
    June 28, 2012

    I’ve been trying to get them to cough up what they mean for ages, eric.

    1) What is scientism?

    the problem is that the version of scientism they turn up with doesn’t apply to anyone I can think of and so I look for examples

    2) Who is doing this?

    But people like E. O. Wilson are saying that you can and should use the scientific method to know things are true. And “true” by “we know it to be true enough to withstand the test”. Which none of them have come up with anything that he’s trying to “know” via science that they can point to the problem with. They just say “there are other ways of knowing”. Leading to

    3) What other ways are there of knowing?

    Which has now led to “if you read or were told something, you know that thing”.

    Problem here is how do you know it’s true?

    And that’s where all the rile at “scientism” really falls down. Because they can’t find anything that would help them try that wouldn’t involve the scientific method which they continue to say (without basis) is wrong.

  59. #59 MNb
    June 30, 2012

    “I am often keen to defend some form of scientism.”
    Exactly. Every time someone accuses me of scientism I take it as a compliment.
    The branch of science called history is an excellent confirmation of scientism. I have deep respect for the methods, the creativity and ingenuity of historians. Lately I get the impression that their particular brand is “harder” than physics (I teach that subject). Maybe that’s exaggerated, but they certainly know what falsification means and how to use it.

    “natural scientists need to recognize that researchers in social science and the humanities are more like them than is sometimes recognized.”
    Here you have one:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rudy_Kousbroek

    Alas for most of you the appropriate article is in Dutch:

    http://mainzerbeobachter.wordpress.com/2011/07/14/kousbroeks-vergeefse-moeite/

  60. #60 IgnosticMorgan-CarneadesofGa.-SkepticGriggsy
    Augusta, Ga.
    July 5, 2012

    For the record: make it rational ways of knowing instead of scientific so as to make the distinction betwixt science and religion without putting that scientistic onus on science.

  61. #61 Patrice
    NationWide
    July 5, 2012

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