Sunday, November 14, 2010

Myth of Science Continued

“The Personified and The Particular are arch-demons to advocates of a ley-like, nomothetic approach to knowing. Scientists teach their intellectual children at a early age to be wary of the wily Personification. Should Personification appear—in any of its several guises of animism, anthropomorphism, and projection—it should be treated as an evil, to be avoided or stamped out. The Particular is also not to be trusted. It can mislead. Those in the charge of nomothetic science quickly learn to banish The Particular by immediately labeling it, then ignoring it. These anathematizing labels include: merely anecdotal, a single case, an n of one, a single data point, an uncontrolled observation, a single instance, an exception, a suggestive indication, an interesting possibility to be followed up by more careful study.” And later, “Is there a form of understanding, of knowing that can occur only through familiar, intimate contact with the object of knowing—through a deep and sustained encounter with a particular?” (Braud, The Ley and the Labyrinth
This is the clearest distinction one can draw between what has been misapprehended as the opposing spheres of the scientific and the mythological viewpoints. I say “misapprehended” because, of course, science is in the sense we’ve already defined a mythologizing process, and myth is derived from experience - psychological if not physical - in a way which makes the modeling processes used in science useful for analyzing it, as well. Cassirer’s Philosophy of Symbolic Forms explores this distinction clearly, but did not see to seek to find their unity, how they apply one to the other.

Science models, myth generates narrative. We try to remove the scientist from science, and say that, should we still see the fingerprints of the scientist in his work, then he has done us all a disservice. Is there science without scientists? Of course not. Science, derived from and used to represent nature, is, yet again, a form of mythology. But there’s still an important distinction to be made between a model which can be tested, and a narrative, which cannot.

Thinking about this now, it seems the distinction is one of iteration and function. Iteration: the scientific method depends on the ability to repeat an experiment. Experiences which seem mythical are by their very nature seemingly unique. They cannot be reproduced or repeated. You cannot ask that lightning to strike the same place twice. (Though of course there’s no reason to assume that it can’t.)

Some of the functional axioms of the mythology of science - especially that of pure physics - make it quite dissimilar from other forms of mythology. Mathematics and formal logic too are able to unearth fact and truth axiomatically, without an actor, and serve as the requisite tools for a mythology unlike any previously known to Western Civilization. (Though let's not suppose that there is one universal set of axioms that can be applied to all of mathematics- see Godel's incompleteness theorum.) It is a myth so uniquely suited to modelling the empirical world, and of removing and reducing the consciousness of the minds in which it occurs to nothing, that we have almost completely lost sight that it is still a mythology at work. We mustn't lose sight of the representation inherent in all models posited by science, or of the removal of the subject so as to derive any clearer view of a world, which of course requires a mind to call it into existence.
"The world is my representation" is, like the axioms of Euclid, a proposition which everyone must recognize as true as soon as he understands it, although it is not a proposition that everyone understands as soon as he hears it. To have brought this proposition to consciousness and to have connected it with the problem of the relation of the ideal to the real, in other words, of the world in the head to the world outside of the head, constitutes, together with the problem of moral freedom, the distinctive character of the moderns. (Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, Part I)
Of course, there is not in truth one "myth of science" but in fact many, countless myths supported on the back of a few basic axioms and suppositions, and many of them are anything if not aware of - or at least burdened by - the lurking shadow of the subject, of the hall of mirrors or infinite regress posed by consciousness and its own self awareness. As was referenced in an earlier equally rambling post, science is facing its own post-modern crisis, much as genetic science is, now that it is becoming increasingly clear that genes are more like holograms than a simple straightforward linear "code," with one line of code saying "blue eyes," another saying "red head." If only it were so simple! Even if Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle is frequently misunderstood by laypeople (such as myself), as a thought experiment, it poses the useful insight that experiments cannot be conducted free of bias and perception. Theories of cognitive science that don't depend entirely on underlying strata of materialistic or positivist myth also are burdened with similar levels of uncertainty.

This too further muddles the unity and distinction between mythology and science, and narrative and model. Can we safely say they are all one and the same? No. But can we untangle them and say they are separate? Again, the answer is no.

More questions. Fewer answers.

Order The Immanence of Myth to see where this inquiry lead.

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