“Beware of false knowledge; it is more dangerous than ignorance.” ~ Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw
We all want to understand how the world works – both for our benefit and entertainment. The severity of inquiry varies vastly among people. Most in the Collective of humanity accept what they are told. Socialization and natural disinclination to academics dulls the desire to delve into the nature of Nature.
“Nature is often hidden.” ~ English scientist Francis Bacon
Only a few seriously seek to uncover Nature’s deepest secrets, heading toward what Aristotle called “final cause,” which is “that sort of end which is not for the sake of something else, but for whose sake everything else is.”
“The naturally proper direction of our road is from things better known and clearer to us, to things that are clearer and better known by Nature.” ~ Aristotle
“What you see depends on how you choose to look.” ~ American physicist Frank Wilczek
There are 3 methodologies for comprehending Nature: religion, natural philosophy, and science.
“To respect a mystery is to make way for the answer.” ~ American poet and philosopher Criss Jami
Religion is traditional dogma, often involving supernaturality and faith. Beyond mythologies of gods and the afterlife, religion is a universal touchstone of human culture: infusing belief systems and infecting other methodologies.
“I do not seek to understand in order to believe, but I believe in order to understand. For I believe this: unless I believe, I will not understand.” ~ Anselm of Canterbury
Natural philosophy is the study of Nature from a holistic perspective, interpretively accepting what is experienced to build a conceptual realm that constitutes a worldview. Natural philosophy was the norm of analytic inquiry until shunted aside by the Scientific Revolution, which gained momentum in the 17th century.
“Knowledge is nothing but perception.” ~ Plato
“Science is not a body of facts. Science is a method for deciding whether what we choose to believe has a basis in the laws of Nature or not.” ~ American geophysicist Marcia McNutt
Science descended from natural philosophy, but in doing so adopted the assumption that actuality and reality are synonymous: naïve realism.
6th-century-BCE Greek philosopher Thales of Miletus set the tone for scientific inquiry in seeking unchanging, unifying principles of Nature. Thales posited that Nature derives from a single, ultimate substance, thus establishing the philosophic school of matterism which reigns to the present day. For Thales, the essential substance was water.
“A strict matterist believes that everything depends on the motion of matter.” ~ James Clerk Maxwell
Francis Bacon propounded the scientific method in 1621: a formal proposal for the experimental approach adopted by Galileo decades earlier, and first suggested by Thales. For his part in experiencing the scientific method, Bacon died of pneumonia in 1626 after an experiment producing the first frozen chicken.
“There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.” ~ Arthur Conan Doyle
The scientific method denigrates what cannot be confirmed – anecdotes need not apply. By circumscribing its data set, science curtails its inquiry to comfortable facts.
“No part of the aim of science is to call forth new sorts of phenomena; indeed, those that will not fit in the paradigmatic box are often not seen at all.” ~ American philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn
Dropping the holism inherent in natural philosophy, science moved to its modern perspective by ignoring systemic complexity and focusing on individual components in isolation. While adding vastly to man’s database, it simultaneously cemented ignorance of reality.
“Science may be described as the art of systematic oversimplification.” ~ Austrian philosopher Karl Popper
Empiricism is the conviction that understanding existence is entirely amenable to observation. This implicitly assumes full trust in the senses to accurately perceive Nature.
“The senses deceive from time to time, and it is prudent never to trust wholly those who have deceived us even once.” ~ René Descartes
“Observations always involve theory.” ~ American astronomer Edwin Hubble
Today’s consensual acceptance of matterism by scientists is an expansive extrapolation from classical physics. Matterists studiously ignore what physicists most crucially learned in the 20th century: that matter is made of energy. Accepting that fact inexorably leads to energyism, which is unacceptable, as it places reality beyond empirical science’s reach.
Matterism is a doctrine befitting scientific knowledge in the 18th century, before Maxwell’s 1865 unifying field theory. Einstein’s 1905 equation of matter-energy transmutability terminated the idea that matter is the end of Nature’s story.
Validated 20th-century quantum field theories – which confirm extra-dimensionality and characterize matter as energy gyres – axed matterism as antiquated. If matter is not elemental, matterism is bunkum. By the 21st century, it was abundantly clear that science had reached the limits of empiricism to answer how Nature is derived.
Scientists are often accused of a bias toward mechanism or matterism, even though believers in vitalism and in finalism are not lacking among them. Such bias is inherent in the method of science.
The most successful scientific investigation has generally involved treating phenomena as if they were purely matteristic, rejecting any metaphysical hypothesis as long as a physical hypothesis seems possible. The method works. The restriction is necessary because science is confined to physical means of investigation and so it would stultify its own efforts to postulate that its subject is not physical and so not susceptible to its methods. ~ American paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson
Another axiom underlying empiricism is determinism: a misplaced sense of surety in causality. Determinism affords a tidy framework for explaining Nature as resolving to material cause and effect. Determinism ignores the uncertainty found throughout Nature.
Very few areas of science are uncontaminated by the pseudo-certainty of statistical conclusions describing individually uncertain events. ~ American biomechanist Steven Vogel
“Within science, all causes must be local and instrumental. Purpose is not acceptable as an explanation. Action at a distance, either in space or time, is forbidden. Especially, teleological influences of final goals upon phenomena are forbidden.” ~ English-born American physicist Freeman Dyson
“One of the principal objects of theoretical research is to find the point of view from which the subject appears in the greatest simplicity.” ~ American scientist Josiah Willard Gibbs
Riding shotgun on the stagecoach of science is reductionism: the conviction that Nature’s infinite complexity may be understood by comprehending the constituent components involved.
“We would not have got from the ancient view of the world to the modern without ignoring the overall complexity of the universe and focusing on individual components of it, in isolation from all others.” ~ Australian economist Steve Keen
Reductionism views Nature as nothing more than the sum of its parts. In banishing synergy, reductionism implicitly considers Nature mechanistic. As this underlying assumption is unreal, reductionism is nothing more than a convenient tool for atomistic study, while missing the proverbial forest for the trees.
“The widespread adoption of this reductionist approach to scientific enquiry was to have a profound impact on the shaping of thought generally. It inevitably led to a fragmented view of the world – to a focus on the individual parts of a system rather than on the organic whole. It led to an emphasis on the way in which the constituent elements operated separately, rather than the ways in which they interacted. This tendency was reinforced by a mechanistic approach to natural phenomena.” ~ English historian Clive Ponting
The success that reductionism had in explaining some of the furniture in the world gave it outsized credence. But reductionism cannot grasp gyres: the nonlinear dynamic systems which are the heart of Nature. For instance, the ecological gyres that characterize life cannot be accounted for under reductionism. Reductionism looks at the universe as distinct particles, when it is instead a web of energy waves. In accounting for existence, reductionism hits a dead end, yet suggests that there is more to the story.
“If we follow scientific reductionism all the way down, we end up with stuff that certainly does not look like tiny pebbles or billiard balls, not even like strings vibrating in a multidimensional space, but more like what pure mathematics deals with. The moral to draw from the reductionist scenario seems to be that either what is fundamental is not material, or that nothing at all is fundamental.” ~ German British philosopher Jan Westerhoff
Genes no longer mean just DNA sequences to geneticists. Epigenetics has swaddled the study into a web of subtle interactions. The seeming certainties of reductionist genetics in the 20th century look like simplistic assumptions now.
We inherit more than just genes from our parents. Acquired environmental adaptations are passed to our offspring. ~ Italian geneticist Nicola Iovino
Another aspect of genetics is often overlooked: that the study is almost as abstract as modern physics. What is understood about genetics is entirely deductive, without any direct observation.
“We know that genes – the units of heredity – are made of stuff called DNA. We know a great deal about DNA, and how it works. But you can’t see the details of what DNA looks like, even with a powerful microscope. Almost everything we know about DNA comes indirectly, from dreaming up models and then testing them.” ~ Richard Dawkins in 2011
Geneticists only surmise that DNA creates outcomes. That inheritance involves an energetic system (egenes) – with genetics as its physical correlate – is infinitely more likely than presuming that DNA somehow transfers precocious knowledge to offspring. In every science, assuming matterism consistently yields an incomplete story in getting to the root of Nature.
In trying to portray Nature, conventional science painted itself into a corner with its insistence on matterism. Convention itself is a problem.
In all academic disciplines, tradition is a heavy draw. The bedrock of beliefs that underlie the ivory towers of academia are those that align with those who already have tenure. Skeptics are often denied a seat.
A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it. ~ Max Planck
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“Science is a system of idealised entities: atoms, electric charges, mass, energy and the like – fictions compounded out of observed uniformities, deliberately adapted to mathematical treatment that enable men to identify some of the furniture of the universe, and to predict and control parts of it.” ~ French philosopher Georges Sorel
The preeminent problem of modern science is its false premise of matterism, to which scientists religiously cling because they believe it is the only basis for objectivity, upon which the scientific method relies. This is a failure of logic. The scientific method is only a platform for collating facts. Knowledge necessarily involves inference, which goes beyond evidence.
If phenomena are only proximate, and materiality ultimately illusory, science itself seems undermined. But that is not so. By its very method of inquiry, science undermines itself, if its intention is to suss Nature.
If the province of science is confined to the observable, shunning the inferable, then science can never have anything to meaningfully state about reality. Even science’s characterization of phenomena is woefully incomplete: a cartoon of what is really going on. In short, for getting to essentials, science is no substitute for natural philosophy.
“The scientific revolution of the 17th century depended on a crucial limiting step at the start: it depended on subtracting from the physical world as an object of study everything mental: consciousness, meaning, intention, or purpose. The physical sciences as they have developed since then describe, with the aid of mathematics, the elements of which the material universe is composed, and the laws governing their behavior in space and time.
“The physical sciences can describe organisms, but they cannot describe the subjective experiences of such organisms or how the world appears to their different particular points of view. A purely physical description, however complete, will leave out the subjective essence of the experience, without which it would not be a conscious experience at all.
“So, the physical sciences, in spite of their extraordinary success in their own domain, necessarily leave an important aspect of Nature unexplained. Further, since the mental arises through the development of animal organisms, the nature of those organisms cannot be fully understood through the physical sciences alone.
“Biological evolution must be more than just a physical process, and the theory of evolution, if it is to explain the existence of conscious life, must become more than just a physical theory.” ~ American philosopher Thomas Nagel
The enormous irony of empirical science is that its power is firmly grounded in abstraction and the imagination. All logical reasoning involves counterfactual thinking for its assessment: the ability to imagine what does not exist.
“Innocent, unbiased observation is a myth.” ~ Brazilian-born British biologist Peter Medawar
Science often stumbles into 2 major pitfalls: making unwarranted assumptions and wrongly attributing causality. An assumption is taking something for granted, a supposition. In an open inquiry about reality, nothing should be assumed.
“Sit down before a fact as a little child, be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow humbly and to whatever abysses Nature holds, or you shall learn nothing.” ~ English biologist Thomas Henry Huxley
The other common error in science is mistaking correlation with causality. This readily arises from the innate way our minds work, as shown in childhood learning.
There is a natural propensity to induction – reaching broad conclusions from a small pool of observations – that both drives us toward deeper truths, and, through a desire for simplification, forms the basis of false beliefs.
“Why should things be easy to understand?” ~ American novelist Thomas Pynchon
Throughout history, astute observers have sensed that there is more going on than first appearances convey; so there has been a restless search for general principles and the foundations underlying Nature. This was the thrust of natural philosophy that was inadvertently abandoned by science in its embrace of empirical matterism.
Therein sits an open secret. Science has provided ample evidence which may be drawn upon to understand Nature and its derivation, but refusal to step beyond the phenomenal blocks the way. Behind this obstinacy is the religious belief that actuality is reality. Ignorance is learned, and then insisted upon (smug ignorance); whence the myth that the sensate world is all that there is.
“It is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.” ~ American astronomer Carl Sagan
Laws of Nature
“To be a scientist, you have to have faith that the universe is governed by dependable, immutable, absolute, universal, mathematical laws of an unspecified origin.” ~ Paul Davies
Science attempts to render the order we perceive ironclad by formulating “laws” of Nature. This distillation invariably ends in symbolism: mathematics.
“It was mathematics, the non-empirical science par excel-lence, wherein the mind appears to play only with itself, that turned out to be the science of sciences, delivering the key to those laws of Nature and the universe that are con-cealed by appearances.” ~ American theorist Hannah Arendt
Via mathematics, science aims at discovering the laws by which Nature is encoded. Physics models pervasively show extra-dimensionality (ED), and entanglements involving infinities: indicating phenomena beyond our ken. As a compass to the truth, mathematics points to existence as a practically inscrutable complexity. Biology seconds this apprehension.
“As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain, and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.” ~ Albert Einstein
“The results I get are termed by the local mathematicians as ‘startling.'”~ Srinivasa Ramanujan in a 1910 letter to English mathematician G.H. Hardy, who befriended Ramanujan
Srinivasa Ramanujan (1887–1920) was a precocious Indian mathematician. Ramanujan’s sketchy education did not deter him from producing a prodigious volume of wondrous equations and theorems. Many were completely novel, opening entirely new areas of exploration.
“Ramanujan made many momentous contributions to mathematics, especially number theory.” ~ American mathematician George Andrews
So much of what Ramanujan offers comes from mysterious words and strange formulas that seem to defy mathematical sense. ~ Japanese American mathematician Ken Ono
Modern-day mathematicians still struggle to understand many of the implications of Ramanujan’s insights and discoveries. For one, Ramanujan construed a mathematical form which may explain the physics of black holes.
“Mr. Ramanujan’s methods were so terse and novel, and his presentation so lacking in clearness and precision, that the ordinary mathematical reader, unaccustomed to such intellectual gymnastics, could hardly follow him.” ~ Indian mathematician Narayana Iyengar
A mathematical savant, Ramanujan was inscrutably able to rapidly solve complex problems.
“He combined a power of generalization, a feeling for form, and a capacity for rapid modification of his hypotheses that were often really startling. The limitations of his knowledge were as startling as its profundity. His answers were arrived at by a process of mingled argument, intuition, and induction, of which he was entirely unable to give any coherent account.” ~ G.H. Hardy
In 1943, Austrian pediatrician and medical theorist Hans Asperger identified a profile of individuals who were able to function quite well in society but seemed to operate with a divergent mental model from ordinary folk. Ramanujan may have fit Asperger’s profile. Despite his mathematical brilliance, Ramanujan displayed certain behaviors and absence of practical foresight that marked him as lacking common sense.
“The real beauty of life is in orderliness.” ~ Ghanaian writer Ernest Agyemang Yeboah
Every event and every object are unique; but our minds have an inexorable inclination to categorize: to view the world through templates. By this tendency we create an order to Nature, which is different than the order Nature creates.
“We should be cautious not to attribute to Nature laws which may perhaps be only of our own invention.” ~ Scottish geologist James Hutton
Most importantly, we do not see the world as a series of interacting processes. Time is a secondary sense. Hence temporal truths – of consequences – are the hardest lessons learned. Instead, strong spatial orientation – toward objects and bodies – issues consequences born of delusions.
“Causality is a complex function. Complexity indicates dynamism and constant change, which makes the habits of categorization and search for universal rules seem dubiously relevant. Rather, an attempt to see the interrelatedness of events will seem important.” ~ American psychologist Richard Nisbett et al
Following the mind’s convention of object orientation, the miracle of Nature having laws invoked a Creator.
“The laws of Nature are but the mathematical thoughts of God.” ~ Greek mathematician Euclid in the 4th century BCE
The urge toward theism is a strong statement of an imperative need to sense a cosmic order and doing so through objectification. An equally poignant declaration was made in believing that Nature has laws.
Whereas natural law has remained a central precept, post-industrial science gave God a special dispensation: banishment. Scientists still have faith, but it has been firmly placed in a natural order without a supernatural cause.
“The ability to reduce everything to simple fundamental laws does not imply the ability to start from those laws and reconstruct the universe.” ~ American physicist Philip Anderson
Like energy that exudes materiality, the only things propping up laws of Nature are abstractions, bridled to our need to render order. Sensing structure makes us feel safe and offers the profitable prospect of predictable exploitation. So we celebrate such laws and consider them real.
“The great delusion of modernity is that the laws of Nature explain the universe for us. The laws of Nature describe the universe, they describe the regularities. But they explain nothing.” ~ Ludwig Wittgenstein
The Limits of Knowledge
“There’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is. But it’s there.” ~ Morpheus, in the movie The Matrix (1977)
Intellectual fallibility is intrinsic in the life of any sentient being. This is by design.
“We may regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its past and the cause of its future. An intellect which at a certain moment would know all forces that set Nature in motion, and all positions of all items of which Nature is composed, if this intellect were also vast enough to submit these data to analysis, it would embrace in a single formula the movements of the greatest bodies of the universe and those of the tiniest atom; for such an intellect nothing would be uncertain and the future just like the past would be present before its eyes.” ~ Pierre-Simon Laplace in 1814
Pierre-Simon Laplace was one of the greatest scientists of his time. Peculiarly, Laplace’s work on probability led him to certainty – a conclusion which became known as Laplace’s demon: that omniscience would render existence entirely predictable for all time. This was the first published articulation of scientific determinism.
In crowning causality as the sovereign of science, the deterministic demon proved inspirational to the scientifically minded that followed in Laplace’s wake. It was a sophistic siren.
Deep in the deluge of knowledge that poured forth in the 20th century were ironclad limits on what can be known.
In 1926, addressing what might be learned about the qualities of elemental quanta, German theoretical physicist Werner Heisenberg discovered inherent uncertainty. The primordial constituents of matter were inescapably probabilistic at best. Since then, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle has been proven an unshakable pillar of certitude about Nature’s ways.
In 1931, Austrian American logician Kurt Gödel argued that, for any formal mathematical system to be useful, it is impossible to use the system to prove every truism it contains. Mathematically speaking, truth involves faith at some point. Gödel’s incompleteness theorems are indispellable.
In 2008, American mathematician David Wolpert logically proved that all knowledge of any possible universe is beyond the grasp of any intellect that might exist within it. So much for omniscience.
Wolpert put the last nail in the coffin of Laplace’s demon. But he did more than that. In determining the “physical limits of inference,” Wolpert showed that there are facts about phenomena which cannot be phenomenally known, by either experiment or computational prediction. Hence, empiricism can never unravel existence, and so cannot provide a correct scientific worldview.
“All knowledge resolves itself into probability.” ~ Scottish philosopher David Hume
A cold-eyed look at humanity cannot help but bring chagrin. History has been a whirlwind of incomprehension that continues to this day. The reason why is simple: whereas discerning actuality takes effort, believing misinformation is easy.
One can never reverse what has been learned, even if the uptake is fiction, not fact. The mind refuses to return to a prior state.
“It is extremely difficult to return the beliefs of people who have been exposed to misinformation to a baseline similar to those of people who were never exposed to it.” ~ Australian psychologist Stephan Lewandowsky et al
The curse of knowledge is the inability to subtract what one knows. The curse manifests when teachers assume that their students know more about a subject than the students do know.
“Social interaction is really an interaction of minds, of mental states.” ~ Janet Wilde Astington
Culture relies upon sharing information. Although believability is a factor in determining whether information is propagated, people mainly pass on tidbits that evoke an emotional response, irrespective of veracity.
“Emotional arousal increases people’s willingness to pass on information.” ~ American psychologist Colleen Seifert et al
Social repetition creates an illusion of consensus when none exists. Thinking that others believe something – particularly those who are respected – solidifies and sustains belief in a falsity.
“A lie told often enough becomes the truth.” ~ Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin
From ancient times, propagandists have appreciated human gullibility. Politicians invariably rely upon it.
One outcome of lies in the societal arena is pluralistic ignorance: a dichotomy between what is generally believed and what people think is generally believed. This can result in the false-consensus effect: those with a minority belief wrongly thinking that they are in the majority. Such wrongly perceived social consensus can serve to solidify belief in falsity. Correction becomes practically impossible, creating the continued-influence effect: a lie becomes the truth.
The press contributes to misinformation. To render science “newsworthy,” the media inexorably oversimplify, misrepresent, or overdramatize scientific results.
As science is inherently complex, simplification is inevitable. But oversimplification easily leads to misunderstanding.
Another failure prances in journalists’ illusory aim to be “balanced” in their reportage. There is no balance to be had in some stories.
“If media stick to journalistic principles of “balance” even when it is not warranted, the outcome can be highly misleading.” ~ Australian psychologist John Cook et al
Reportage about man-made climate change is exemplary. Human manufacture of global warming through worldwide pollution is scientifically indisputable. Yet contrarian tripe has featured prominently in the media. The misleading sense of controversy on a scientifically settled issue has left the public confused about the severity of human impact on the planet.
While refreshingly diverse, the cacophony of the Internet has grossly exacerbated the problem of public misinformation. So-called “fake” news has become common.
Fact or fiction, repetition in and of itself reaps a reward when it comes to learning. Familiarity creates credence.
“Repetition of information strengthens that information in memory and thus strengthens belief in it, simply because the repeated information seems more familiar or is associated with different contexts that can serve as later retrieval cues.” ~ Australian psychologist Ullrich Ecker et al
Falsity is most readily accepted when it is part of a plausible story, consistent with other assumed facts, or corresponds with established beliefs.
“People’s worldview plays a key role in the persistence of misinformation. Personal beliefs can facilitate the acquisition of attitude-consonant misinformation, increase reliance on misinformation, and inoculate against the correction of false beliefs.” ~ German American psychologist Norbert Schwarz et al
Facing facts which run counter to current belief, only if a source is considered credible and the listener relatively open-minded on the topic can otherwise-suspicious factual content hope to trump its sinister sister: misinformation.
“Although suspension of belief is possible, it seems to require a high degree of attention, considerable implausibility of the message, or high levels of distrust at the time the message is received. So, in most situations, the deck is stacked in favor of accepting information rather than rejecting it, provided there are no salient markers that call the speaker’s intention into question. Going beyond this default of acceptance requires additional motivation and cognitive resources.” ~ Stephan Lewandowsky et al
Once misinformation is accepted, it is highly resistant to deletion, which requires active mental denunciation. This is especially difficult when a falsity fits well within an ensconced belief.
“Retractions rarely, if ever, have the intended effect of eliminating reliance on misinformation, even when people believe, understand, and later remember the retraction.” ~ Norbert Schwarz et al
Misinformation is abetted by the illusion of knowledge: people thinking they know more than they do. With few exceptions, the illusion of knowledge is universal.
“The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance – it is the illusion of knowledge.” ~ American historian Daniel Boorstin
Thus, this is the state of human knowledge: an admixture of facts and fabrications attached to widespread beliefs in falsehoods, with fictions as foundations, and facts supportive only by being sewn into a fabric of falsity. The central beliefs of humanity are rubbish which have diverted humanity down cul-de-sacs of self-destruction and abiding ignorance.
“The bulk of the world’s knowledge is an imaginary construction.” ~ American author Helen Keller