Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Science Is Dead...

It may have been accidental, it may have been cold-blooded murder - but one way or another - the corpse is laying bloody and broken on the filthy floor of our public discourse.

We have two gifts, each of us.  We have gift for thought - for starting with things that we think to be true, and then deriving other true things from them - that is, we have the capacity for reason.  We have a gift for feeling - for having deep, passionate drive for a variety of things - freedom, love, the empowerment of others, to name some.

Reason and passion interact in very complex ways.  With reason we seek to understand the world around us and how it could be different - with passion we drive ourselves toward making those changes.  With reason we choose our path - with passion we move along it.

In the short term - it can become difficult to discern whether passion or reason leads us.  If we reverse things and allow ourselves to choose our path with our passion and then try to follow up with our reason, we can land ourselves in a world of hurt.  Passion - while energizing, if it isn’t directed intentionally with our reason, can switch from end to end rapidly, ensuring that we make little progress in any direction.  Or worse, since passion can be stirred by many things that are not in our own best interest - without reason to act as the guide - it is likely that we will end up doing things that harm both us as individuals and as a broader society.

Over the centuries we have discovered habits and systems that have helped us to keep the relationship between reason and passion in the right arrangement.  For many years most governing authority in many countries was placed into the hands of a single individual, with minimal check in place for short term passions that, by the power that the individual held, could lead to very wide-spread but very unreasoned changes in direction.  Around the time the US government was being framed, we as a race were beginning to understand the necessity to check the passions of the individual by building systems - governments with the particular end in mind of making passion subordinate to reason.  

On the smaller scale, the discipline of subordinating our passion to our reason is the idea of faith.  We convince ourselves rationally (either empirically or through the word of a trusted advisor) that the stove is hot when turned on, then we have the faith that that continues to be true, no matter how tempting it might be to lean on it with our hand on the surface.  Or maybe to illustrate passion a little more carefully - we prove to ourselves that imbibing large quantities of pizza and soda doesn’t do good things for our pant size.  And no matter how good that pie looks and how passionately I may want to eat the whole thing - I subordinate that sense to my previously arrived at conclusion.

To get back to the unfortunate death of science - lets make a quick, simple definition of science.  It is the act of discovering things through observation and reason.  And again to connect all of this - reason is what gives purposeful direction to our passion.

So how did this murder take place? 

Well it was cooperative in part - to start with, we find it very difficult when things are of the utmost importance to continue to lead with reason.  Passion jams its way to the front, and can drive to conclusions that have no real logical connection to the facts that lay around us.  This can be seen in public debates about climate change, abortion, and equality of sexes, races, etc. 

The second part is that we have fallen prey to abstraction when it comes to science.  We come to believe a thing, based on a rational analysis of the facts, and we have the faith to continue in that - and when we begin to engage with other people we make the argument, “you should believe this because it’s science”.  But we fail to actually speak to facts and the reasoning that carries those facts to the conclusions that we’ve reached.  We’re using science in the way that those in years past used religion - to manipulate, to control, and to get our way without doing the hard work of thinking and reasoning with others.   We’re accomplices.  We have the bright red blood of science dripping from our shaking fingers.