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Scientism

I cross-posted my entry about the up-coming shamanism conference in Iquitos to three Live Journal communities:


  • shamanic_dreams Most relevant

  • psychonaut Clearly relevant

  • singularity_now Arguably relevant


  • So far the shamanic_dreams entry has generated no replies. Someone on psychonaut asked me how to pronounce "ayahuasca," but otherwise no response. The post to singularity_now has so far generated three responses; all hostile. I deleted the first hostile comment as it was posted annonymously, but the other two I answered.

    The 'tude I "sense" coming from the vocal members of that community got me thinking about the topic of scientism. Here's an excerpt from the Wikipedia entry from scientism:
    Scientism is a synonym of positivism, a common ideology in the 19th and 20th century which places its trust in scientific progress and only in scientific progress. However, while positivism may sometimes be used in a neutral way, scientism is always pejorative. It refers to the ideology of science as the only legitimate truth and to a conception of social progress has necessary and brought forth by technological development.


    The Skeptic's Dictionary has the following to say about scientism:
    Scientism, in the strong sense, is the self-annihilating view that only scientific claims are meaningful, which is not a scientific claim and hence, if true, not meaningful. Thus, scientism is either false or meaningless. This view seems to have been held by Ludwig Wittgenstein in his Tractatus Logico-philosophicus (1922) when he said such things as "The totality of true propositions is the whole of natural science..." He later repudiated this view.

    In the weak sense, scientism is the view that the methods of the natural sciences should be applied to any subject matter. This view is summed up nicely by Michael Shermer:

    Scientism is a scientific worldview that encompasses natural explanations for all phenomena, eschews supernatural and paranormal speculations, and embraces empiricism and reason as the twin pillars of a philosophy of life appropriate for an Age of Science (Shermer 2002).


    On the other hand, the dictionary definition of 'scientism' is the attitude and method of the typical natural scientist, whoever that might be.


    I agree that "the methods of the natural sciences should be applied to any subject matter." I do not extend that attitude to the absurd and "self-annihilating" position that only facts and theories couched in the language of science count as genuine knowledge.

    Nobody likes to think of him or herself as a sheep. At the same time, people love to disparage the herd-mentality. Nobody, not even the Ted Kaczynskis of the world, sequestered in their wilderness refuges, can survive without the collaborative efforts of other humans. We love to disparage the herd and bask in the delusion that we ourselves stand apart and above from the mass of weak-minded humanity.

    I admit, I give into this temptation on a regular basis. When I hear about people committing acts of destruction and murder over cartoon drawings of a religious figure I feel an strong temptation to classify all instances of religiousity as brain damage.

    I suppose I should thank the members of the singularity_now community for reminding me that every clique and faction in the herd remains within the set of herdlings.

    I AM A MEMBER OF A CIVILIZATION.


    [addendum]
    Thanks to mythalethe and weev for weighing in on the topic over in singularity_now.

    Comments

    kmo
    Feb. 12th, 2006 07:36 pm (UTC)
    threatening cherished dogmas

    when intelligent seeming people resond like that to an innocent sharing of information, it indicates that you have somehow threatened a dogma that is closely related to their personal identity.

    You should see the lengths mathemajician and ripebastard have since gone to in response to that threat. Granted, I've been doing a fair amount of goading and certainly can't claim "victim" status (not that I would want to take on the role of victim).

    http://community.livejournal.com/singularity_now/57169.html

    Whoops. I accidently posted this comment to singularity_now. I have since deleted it, but it will end up in the wrong inbox and provide more provocation than I intended. Too many tabs and browser windows going at once.
    midnightglobe
    Feb. 14th, 2006 06:12 am (UTC)
    Re: threatening cherished dogmas
    i couldnt resist, i had to throw in a few cents.

    the existence of that community and the heavy thread of materialistic positivism that courses through it is a little disturbing. i might have to come up with something to make their heads spin a little bit.

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