The folly of science-worshiping

A number of people today are science-worshipers.

Now, what do I mean by that term? A science-worshiper is someone who places a tremendous amount of faith in science and scientists to save humanity from itself. What do I mean by that? Well, have you been listening to people out and about in our society? Many seem to be laboring under the illusion that scientific advancements automatically should be equated with “progress.” Many of these same people can go on and on about all the innovations and luxuries we enjoy today that wouldn’t have been possible without science, arguing that scientific exploration has wrought more benefits than harm and always will.

When I interject to say it’s unwise to assume future success will automatically follow past successes, this is dismissed. When I question whether these advancements have truly, aggregately, done more good than harm, I’m considered a loon. Why is that? Because people are blinded by science. The latest in technology. Some people apparently can’t handle their precious adoration of all that is scientific being scrutinized by “Luddites” like myself who wonder if it isn’t such a good idea to run headlong into the future without any pause to ponder what it is we’re trying to do here exactly. The science-worshiping attitude seems to be that all problems that will arise can and will be remedied by the application of newer and better scientific innovations. Cased closed. Luddites everywhere be damned.

But no, the case is not closed simply because some folks choose to approach the vast topic of living in a decidedly scientific era through a largely uncritical lens. That is their blind spot, which they can’t see because they’re in attack mode and out to ridicule anybody and everybody who isn’t as madly in love with all that is scientific as they are.

I do love scientific exploration. Always have. BUT, doing so doesn’t require me to be devoted to defending all that is scientific as if we have some sort of war on. The war’s already been won. Didn’t you get the memo? Science won out. It’s here to stay, folks, assuming we don’t somehow knock ourselves into a new Dark Age. There’s no need to defend it tooth and nail against anyone who wishes to critique what technologies are being used to do and how they’re altering our world in ways that aren’t uniformly positive.

I, for one, pay attention to how our technologies have come to alienate us from one another (in conjunction with other cultural realities, including population density, globalized communication and trade, grand economic imperatives that all are subjected to, etc.). The swift transitioning of life at this point in time is mind-boggling for nearly everybody, because we’re having to learn so much for our own selves, the old ways being on the way out and rendered obsolete in the new world we’re helping co-create. Wisdom of old stands no chance in a topsy-turvy age that has us redefining our values and tolerating lifestyles that are basically imposed upon us.

So where does the new wisdom come from then? From one another, from the wider collective, from the greatest number of people capable of reaching some sort of consensus. People like to bat around the term “democracy,” but what they’re really getting at is majority rule. On one hand people will argue that we each have rights and voices that deserve to be respected, YET when it comes to what impresses most on us, it boils down to what the majority of people have come to expect from one another.

And this leads back to my criticism of science-worshipers. Many of these people seem incapable of comprehending how much they’re accepting as if it’s granted. And how do they know so much? Because they read it in a journal somewhere, or in the newspaper, or saw it on television or in a documentary, or learned it in school. Where else would they get all this information that they claim to know?

See, we’re relying on what others tell us, yet again, this time scientists and so-called “experts.” And who are they? Employees of institutions mostly, which can and does lead to conflicts in interest. Because scientists, like everybody else, are trying to earn a living here. And like everybody else, they aren’t impervious to personal biases or being ego-driven or simply being wrong at times. They are human beings, not superheroes. Scale ’em back down to reality and have a closer look. Take notice of how the FDA actually operates and how much overlap there is within it and corporations backing research tied in to the economics game. How much truly independent research do we think is really going on out here?

And even if most scientists prove to be decent, upstanding people with sharp minds and boatloads of integrity, they aren’t oftentimes in control of how they’re findings wind up being used by others, namely the institutions they work for. So you see this isn’t simply about bashing scientists or science here, not for me; it’s about following the money and trying to remain realistic about what’s actually happening within the realm of scientific exploration, rather than just focusing on some idealized set of events we wish were taking place.

Now, here’s the real kicker. We common laypeople (some of whom may be “experts” or scientists in one field or another, but all of us are laypersons when it comes to everything outside of our own individual focus) are trusting information handed down by scientists. Which scientists? Typically the ones backed by their peers. But what if the majority of persons—all persons, including scientists—are laboring under popular illusions?

This point is most clearly demonstrated when we turn to the pseudoscientific realm of psychiatry. It’s come to receive widespread support within American society, going so far as making people out to be lunatics who speak out against what it’s doing. This is a field that donned a scientific veneer so as to be taken as seriously as medical science, but without actually curing a thing and possessing no diagnostic tests that clearly tell us much. So the MRI scan shows the brains of these children to light up in places that differ from the “normal” majority of other kids? So what? That still doesn’t tell us much. Techniques of this nature are being used to lend credence to a field that makes money through aiming to “correct” non-conformists, whether that be active children or adults unwilling to slap on a smile and perform for others in this collective delusion pretending life is dandy, just peachy keen.

Because a field of study utilizes scientific techniques, that still doesn’t qualify it entirely as a full-fledged science. Anyone can make up a scheme and set about trying to find evidence to support it, but if the evidence is incapable of being falsified (either because there’s not enough information available to go on or because the wacky scheme was hatched rather as an attempt to garner support for what’s ultimately being used as a social engineering project), it isn’t science. Not if that word is to maintain any value.

On the topic of psychiatry, I’ll link to external sources that can break down the situation in greater detail:

Let me say briefly that my own attitudes toward the fields of psychology and psychiatry were shaped growing up in the ’80s and ’90s, witnessing people around me taking these prescribed psychotropic drugs and learning how easy it is to get them (even general practitioners hand them out like candy). So my viewpoint on this has been shaping up for a long time on its own, but then a few years ago I stumbled across the works of Dr. Thomas Szasz, a psychiatrist who was critical of his own field. And what I find when I talk to people on this subject is they are quick to dismiss Dr. Szasz because he was a voice pushed to the fringe and drowned out by the vast majority who work in the field and sing its praises. Why overlook the concerns of that man? Simply because his views ran counter to what the majority wants to believe. I speak his name and promote his books because they provide a very interesting way of understanding how the psychiatric field has come into being and what it has historically been used for. His arguments strike me as very compelling. But why would they compel someone who’d prefer to believe the opposite is true?

And this is the crux of it, folks: oftentimes we believe what we want to believe. We tend to seek out sources that bolster beliefs we already have and to be resistant to contradictory evidence and arguments. Many, many people go along to get along. They will accept what the majority is up to, uncritically. If this many people believe something is true, it’s not likely to be wrong. Right? Wrong. And history has shown us this again and again. People are wrong all the flippin’ time, even scientists (and decent ones are willing to admit this). Life involves trial and error. Human biases have a tendency to get in the way. Plenty of the most influential seekers of truth up through history were viewed as heretics in their communities, and some were killed as a result. We know this. And yet many continue fallaciously making appeals to the majority. Why? Probably because it feels like the safest bet. And it requires less legwork out of us, because information corresponding with popular viewpoints is pasted everywhere.

People believe what they want to believe. And they also believe who they want to believe. Based on what? Personal biases. Conformity pressures. None of us are immune to this. But it still comes down to beliefs, because we laypersons aren’t conducting these experiments for ourselves — we’re trusting what others claiming to be more knowledgeable put forth. We’re placing faith in them to use proper methodology and to not be biased by political and economic pressures. We’re placing faith in them to know better than we do because they claim access to information the vast majority of us aren’t privy to. That is a form of faith. What is faith but an enhanced level of trust?

People can argue all day that this and this is verifiable, but if we can’t personally verify it for ourselves, it’s just chatter. It’s big talk that we can’t back up. Because, in reality, most of us just don’t know. We trust the doctors and scientists to know what we don’t know and to act on that knowledge in our best interests. How is that not a leap of faith all unto itself? Especially when it comes to the latest findings or highly abstract subject matter. How does this differ all that significantly from people centuries back placing faith in priests who also claimed to know on matters that the common people couldn’t access and comprehend for themselves (in the times before the advent of the printing press)? People today will argue that “one is true while is the other proved false,” but hindsight is 20/20, folks. How can you be so certain that what you strongly believe today won’t prove false someday as well?

And what reason is there to assume that scientific exploration alone can provide the full picture? What does science teach us about morality and philosophies? How far can it really go in helping us create lives infused with meaning?

With modern life in hyperdrive and new technologies being spit out daily, how can we pretend to know so much? When I contemplate it seriously, all of this demonstrates to me is yet another way in which we humans are growing increasingly dependent, in this case on “experts” and the explanations and arguments they hand down.

This blog entry was read and recorded and then uploaded as a video on YT:

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