The Book of Nature

Here's an article from Physics Web (via 3 Quarks Daily) that seems appropriate, in the context of the last two posts. Here's the conclusion of the article:

But the image of the book of nature can haunt us today. One reason is that it implies the existence of an ultimate coherent truth - a complete text or "final theory". While many scientists may believe this, it is ultimately only a belief, and it is far likelier that we will endlessly find more in nature as our concepts and technology continue to evolve. Furthermore, the image suggests that the "text" of the book of nature has a divine origin. The idea that the world was the oeuvre of a superhuman author was the precursor of the idea that it was the engineering project of an intelligent designer. This implication has led some contemporary sociologists of science to succumb to the temptation of characterizing scientists as behaving, and seeking to behave, in a priest-like manner.

The most important lesson to be found in Galileo's image is the need to keep developing and revising the metaphors with which we speak about science.

Read the whole thing.


More like this

Robert Crease, a philosopher at SUNY-Stony Brook, has a brief commentary on metaphors and science over at Physics Web. Although Pharyngula and the atheists won't want to hear it, early modern science was born of those who thought that "God reveals himself to humanity in two books - nature and…
“There’s a mark born every minute, and one to trim ‘em and one to knock ‘em.” -David W. Maurer, The Big Con (1940) But how could you tell? There's lots of amazing science going on out there, and none of us can be experts in it all. Moreover, even when we think we know how things ought to behave,…
Not to dredge up old fights, but a topic we discussed on the blog back in 2009 has cropped up in a couple of recent essays. The issue is whether there is a form of truth that literature can convey, perhaps even a level of literary truth which cannot be conveyed through other means. The topic came…
Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the U.S., and at any moment directly affects almost 4% of the population, or about 10.8 million Americans. A diagnosis of cancer can be one of the most frightening moments in someone's life, and yet most people understand little about the disease. I…

From Crease's essay, I infer that scientism, as defined in your previous post, is the cultural equivalent of an optical illusion; observers see scientism not because it is real, but because our culture predisposes us to expect knowledge to come from priest-like figures. That is not, as I see it, Crease's critical point, but that is the light that it casts on your previous posts about Dawkins and scientism.

It captures our sense that nature's truths are somehow imposed on us that they are already imprinted in the world

Our 'sense' that reality exists? That there are realities that can act upon us without our creating them?

This isn't just a failure to apply critical thought, it's a failure of thought itself.

By Caledonian (not verified) on 06 Jan 2007 #permalink