Laplace, some years ago, came up with a notion. This idea was that if one could determine the position and momenta of all the particles in the universe at a given time, then the time evolution of the universe would fix all future events of the universe. This notion is one which persists as some level today. The notion that the all kinds of experience can be understood in terms of atomic data. This is an impossible scenario, yet it persists.

Polanyi writes (pg 141) in his book Personal Knowledge:

Yet the spell of the Laplacian delusion remains unbroken to this day. The ideal of strictly objective knowledge, paradigmatically formulated by Laplace, continues to sustain a universal tendency to enhance the observational accuracy and systematic precision of science, at the expense of its bearing on its subject matter. […] I mention it here only as an intermediate stage in a wider intellectual disorder: namely the menace to all cultural values including those of science, by an acceptance of a conception of man derived from a Laplacian ideal of knowledge and by the conduct of human affairs in the light of such a conception.

There are two threats Polanyi envision to such a notion. One would be a systematic sweeping cultural rejection of science as a perversion of truth. Polanyi wrote this in the 50s, today these currents are becoming perhaps more relevant. The root cause of the modern rejections of science are due to the corruption of science itself by the errant (and dominant) Laplacian error. The second threat is the peril to science from the very acceptance of a scientific outlook based on Laplacian fallacy being used to guide human affairs.

I’d planned to get further on this today … but it’s after ten and I have to turn the pedals some more today. I’ll get back to this.

Filed under: Mark O.Science

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