Saturday, July 13, 2013

 

White's "The Science Delusion"

It is very advisable to examine and dissect the men of science for once, since they for their part are quite accustomed to laying bold hands on everything in the world, even the most venerable things, and taking them to pieces. –Friedrich Nietzsche, epigraph to The Science Delusion.

Curtis White's latest non-fiction offering is The Science Delusion: Asking the Big Questions in a Culture of Easy Answers (Melville House, 2013). For those who wonder about such things, a self-described atheist, White is not critiquing science from a religious perspective. White's attack is grounded in the notion of classical Romanticism as a counterculture to a science or scientism that seeks to subsume or devalue non-scientific human enterprises such as art, religion, and philosophy.

White begins by taking a look at the "new atheists"--Dawkins, Hitchens, Rosenberg, and Harris—observing "that the story these writers have to tell is one that a very powerful part of our culture wants told and emphatically so" (p. 3). He develops the idea of science's "too-comfortable place in the broader ideology of social regimentation, economic exploitation, environmental destruction, and industrial militarism," declaring that "how the ideology of science meshes with the broader ideology of capitalism will be a consistent interest of my investigation here" (p. 11). In this vein, White wonders: "Where is Richard Dawkins's book on the almighty, self-correcting Market God? Or on the military-industrial complex that science and technology has made possible? But, then, it's not in science's interest to notice such things" (p. 55).

After taking on the new atheists, White goes after biology, neuroscience, and physics. Lawrence Krauss, Watson and Crick, Richard Feynman, Stephen Hawking, and Sebastian Seung, among others, fall under White's withering gaze. Along the way, he also brings to bear the arguments of others more attuned to Romanticism, citing for example, Friedrich Schiller: "Art's primary purpose as antagonist to the 'robot' is to 'model freedom.' 'Art models freedom' is Schiller's aesthetic mantra, and it is the Romantic aesthetic in full force. Do you want to know what it is like to be free? Then live in art. ... Art is a counter-discourse, it is a counterculture, or it's not art" (p. 69).

Contra reductive physicalism/materialism, White also cites physicist Arthur Eddington: "The stuff of the world is mind-stuff" (p. 174).. And James Jeans, also a physicist: "I incline to the idealistic theory that consciousness is fundamental, and that the material universe is derivative from consciousness, not consciousness from the material universe ... In general the universe seems to me to be nearer to a great thought than to a great machine" (p. 174).

In closing, here are two excerpts from White's final pages:

"We [Americans] are a culture in which self-evident lies, supported by stunning lapses in argument, are eagerly taken up by our most literate public, which is happy to call it 'fascinating' and 'provocative,' while also assuming it is our inevitable future" (p. 182).

"... Romanticism goes science one better: it also liberates us from the scam—the delusions—of science, of technology, and of the reign of the ever more efficient administration of life that has been the essential problem in the West for the last two centuries" (p. 192).

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