Recently I had noted earlier, following my reading of Polanyi’s Personal Knowledge, that between the Galilean/Copernican period and Newton’s Principia no new scientific data (no facts) arose to distinguish between these two theories. Yet by the time of Newton’s writing of the Principia the dispute was settled. This was settled not by facts but by a process that has more in common with religious conversion than than the popular notions of what is comprised by scientific method.

Physics has seen three major revolutions. Following the development or conception of what we in this “late modernity” [aside: more on that later] period call Physics by the Greeks the overriding principles underpinning reality were driven by a belief that the world and cosmic bodies followed geometric and numeric patterns. Observation and insight were interpreted within this framework. During the period noted above, a conversion began to occur. A mechanical constraint arithmetic model replaced the old. This held until the latter part of the 19th to the early 20th century when it too was replaced. Currently the view of how to best understand the universe is one driven by mathematical invariances (symmetries). Data and experiment are not and have not been the driving force in moving persons and communities from one to another underlying model for how to perceive nature. Passion and persuasion and conversion are better descriptions of what occurred.

Yesterday I began to unwind what Polanyi was driving at with his attack on the mechanistic view of nature. He principally objected to the idea that that the all kinds of experience can be understood in terms of atomic data. This is more than just a rejection of reductionist methods of scientific advancement. And it is not something which today is abandoned with the discovery of quantum uncertainty, i.e., the free willed electron. Scientific metaphors have a way of becoming dominant metaphors applied outside of their realm of application. Consider how uncertainty, relativity, and evolution are examples of scientific ideas have been abused when used as metaphor in the social arenas. The scientific community using those ideas has given a strange credence to their application in other arenas. So too has the notion that man and his society is ultimately are just collections of clockwork apparatus. It is the dangers related to those, essentially abuses, of the conception of a comprehensible, mechanistic, deterministic universe applied to social studies (econ and politics) and life sciences that the chief dangers lie.

Consider the following abbreviated example, which I hope to elaborate on later. Man when viewed in a mechanistic way enables one to set aside models of human dignity in favor of man as a consumer. Hedonistic consumerism can replace a more, well, frankly human (and realistic) view of man in society.

Filed under: Ethics & MoralityMark O.Science

Like this post? Subscribe to my RSS feed and get loads more!