Scientific apostasy

Published on 2024-01-10

I often like to say, half jokingly, that I'm a scientific apostate. Or, if I'm being very specific, I'm an apostate of the scientific method. I don't think that says a lot on its own, so I want to try and elaborate on what exactly I mean.

I think the scientific method is a very useful tool. It is the tool that brought us from the worldview of the medieval period to the one we have today. I don't think the scientific worldview we have today is strictly "better" than the one we had in the medieval period, but it is useful for tackling a wide variety of problems. Even problems that are in turn created by our push towards "modernity" with the scientific method.

But science isn't just its methodology. It's also the scientific worldview. The scientific worldview is taken so seriously in the West today that it's usually thought of as true without any introspection whatsoever. The scientific worldview is understood to be the first worldview to truly see reality for what it is, and it is expected to be the last worldview we ever need. We see this quite a bit in our science fiction. So much of popular science fiction imagines worlds millions of years in the future still gripped with the exact same worldview we have today: that of science.

The issue I have with this is that science can't truly see "real reality," whatever that means, because science creates reality. Science doesn't observe some pre-existing reality that's always been there; it defines its own reality as the object of its exploration.

In particular, it asserts that there is a "real world" that exists independent of any particular observer, and what that real world looks like, how it operates, can only be revealed through the scientific method.

Similarly, Christianity asserts that there exists Heaven and Earth, also independent of any observer, and the nature of these two realms can only be revealed through the Word of God.

In other words, science is not the only way to explore the world. But that's not to say that it's not useful. For example, science is ultimately the framework we used to create germ theory, which paid off immensely for human health. However, germ theory was resoundingly rejected by the scientific community at the time. It often works to generate useful knowledge for doing what I believe to be good things in the world, but that doesn't mean it's perfect.

Perhaps what bothers me more about the scientific method is that it, not unlike Christianity, asserts that it is the only way to understand the world.

Manifestation is useful, whether or not it's real

Science has its uses, but it runs up against some hard limitations. Robin Kimmerer, author of Braiding Sweetgrass, talks a lot about this in her book. In particular, her frustration is that science literally cannot deal with the relationship between the observer and the subject, something which she explains is integral to the way the Anishinaabe understand the world.

Another thing science struggles to handle is problems that problems that are fundamentally not objective. I could talk about things like spirituality, or the mind, but an even more obvious example would be things like morals, and ethics. When you try to apply science to morals and ethics, you get longtermism.

How I escaped longtermism

In general, when science runs into problems that it struggles to conceptualize due to their fundamentally non-objective nature, it argues that they are, in fact, objective problems; it's just that we haven't yet found a way to frame them in an objective way. That's how we go from psychology to neuroscience, and all of a sudden the brain starts to look more like a soulless machine that acts out automated algorithms rather than the house of the human mind.

I don't really like that. It feels like a very vacuous way to understand reality, even if it is really useful for solving certain problems. That's why I sometimes say that I'm a scientific apostate: I reject the idea that science is the only way to understand the world, and I believe it has hard limitations most scientists I encounter don't.

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