Appendix H – Science Philosophy

From the Primal Process Theory perspective, the emergence of the scientific method represented a way for incoming dissonant information to be considered in a more sober-minded, if not “emotionally safe” way. It provides a kind of safety blanket embedded with factual and emotional certainty. This prevents too much dissonance from creating too much chaos. In some respects, it could be argued that the scientific method reflects the appeasing mindset.

Of course, the notion science relies on a form of emotional certainty or comfort may shock many scientists, particularly those unfamiliar with the history of science or psychology. Yet the role of the subjective in science has garnered considerable discussion, including among the following individuals and others who are unfamiliar to most in the general public:

Erwin Schrödinger, of the same quantum physics school of thought as Planck, Einstein in objecting to the “Copenhagen interpretation” of the topic. Like Einstein, he believed “God did not play dice with the universe”. He was disinclined to accept light as both particle and wave in an indeterminate superposition state, or only as a probabilistic state. Yet in some experiments, the observer appears to affect the behavior of the system, depending on they intended to measure. In classical physics this should not be possible, yet it is, implying that the mental state of an observer can impact the behaviour of sub-atomic particles and atoms.

[Of course it has long been suggested that sub-atomic particles and atoms are not solid, but tightly packed energy fields. Results from a study published in Science in 2011 suggest that light behaves as both particle and wave, and that particles somehow interfere with themselves. See Kocsis, Sacha et al, 2011.06.03. “Observing the Average Trajectories of Single Photons in a Two-Slit Interferometer,” Science, Vol. 332, No. 6034 pp 1170-1173. This suggests the dual nature of light may be attributable to a “phase expression” of a given energy density within a given volume. See http://www.sciencemag.org/content/332/6034/1170.abstract. For an interview with one of the authors: CBC Radio One, Quirks and Quarks, “Quantum Peek-a-boo,” broadcast 2011.06.05, at http://www.cbc.ca/quirks/episode/2011/06/04/june-5-2011/ ]

Thomas Kuhn, who held science to be, a cultural expression in the sense it exhibits particular forms of dogmatic commitments to ways of seeing nature, and that these dogmas can be seen as science’s commitment to a certain methodology (i.e. the scientific method) and theoretical paradigms.

[This aspect was discussed by Brian Wynne in his interview with CBC Radio One Ideas program series entitled “How to think about Science”. Wynne also pointed out the fact that Kuhn wrote another paper entitled The Functional Role of Dogma in Science. For more on Thomas Kuhn see: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/thomas-kuhn/]

Karl Popper, best known for his “falsification” theorem that “scientists ought not to be trying to find evidence that confirms their theories, rather they should be trying to find evidence that conflicts with their theories (i.e. the basis of the null hypothesis). A theory is falsifiable if you can imagine an observation that you could make that would cause you to reject the theory.”

[See http://www.public.iastate.edu/~cfehr/201%20n%20Popper%202002.htm   For a short biography on Karl Popper and his work see Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy at: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/popper/]

Nicholas Maxwell, science philosopher formerly of the University College London and author of From Knowledge to Wisdom who contends that science is largely oblivious to its own foundational assumptions which, although erected on the edifice of rationalism and “realism,” are nonetheless assumptions potentially subject to error in that they can never be fully inclusive of the reality to which they refer.

[CBC Radio One’s Paul Kennedy said of questions raised by Maxwell, “Science has been very successful in producing knowledge. But knowledge without wisdom, or science without civilization, is a dangerous thing according to Nicholas Maxwell. And the reason we have the one without the other… is [because] science, as now practiced, does not question its own purposes or investigate its own presuppositions. It transforms the world, but cannot transform itself.” Although we feel Maxwell’s advocacy of wisdom acquired by rational means to be somewhat problematic in its assumptions about rationalism, Kennedy’s summary of Maxwell’s views speaks well to the nature of scientism and its “emotional” tendency, if not addiction, to consonance. For more on this subject, we recommend readers listen to an interview of Maxwell found at the CBC Radio One (2008), Ideas program entitled “How to think about science.”]

Christopher Norris, a Cardiff University philosophy professor and author of “Quantum Theory and the Flight from Realism: Philosophical Responses to Quantum Mechanics” (2000). He believes “the best philosophy of science is a robust realism.” (See the website for the CBC Radio One Ideas series “How to think about Science.”) He asserts that Thomas Kuhn is both a strong epistemological and ontological relativist whose ideas are defined by language-based models used to understand reality and his personal psychological experience, the latter largely shaped or confined by the paradigms of the former, with a very fine line between the two. This is only partially correct in VPT – the ontological aspect Norris refers to largely confined to knowing and experiencing the world solely from a language-based paradigm, which – to us – gives almost exclusive import to the logical, linear, digital positional aspect within the orientation function, and little to the more impressionistic, non-linear, analogue emotion-based aspect within the orientation function.

[Norris is supportive of the Bohm/Einstein/Schrödinger school that attributes some “mysterious” phenomena within quantum physics to our current ignorance and inability to measure. They’re disinclined toward models at variance with everything we’ve measured. He believes science to be in a confused mess, thanks to what he calls fashionable “sceptical relativism;” sceptical relativists taking comfort in this confusion (dissonance) as a support for their indeterminate, uncertainty principle paradigm. He believes that by dispensing with an “underlying reality” or with causal law behind appearances gives rise to a fashionable scepticism – possibly dangerous when applied to the likes of political ideology in which almost anything goes (including holocaust denial), everything simply a battle among competing perspectives devoid of any reference to a presumed objective standard of truth. His view helps underscore interplay between the two systems of knowing in the orientation function, each keeping excesses of the other in check. While he decries having no sense of objective truth independent of the human mind, the reverse could equally be argued. The likes of “the realist school of physics” could say they’re the sole guardians of absolute truth. This is why the interplay model we propose is so important. Ironically, and by his own admission, Norris believes one of the major problems of academic debate is that it tends to polarize, reducing each party to a mutual exchange of caricatures. Ideally, there should be grounds for some form of “moderate realism.” Listen to an interview with Christopher Norris at episode 21 of the CBC Radio One (2008), Ideas program: “How to think about science” at http://www.cbc.ca/ideas/episodes/2009/01/02/how-to-think-about-science-part-1---24-listen/#episode21]

Mary Midgley was a Newcastle University philosopher, author of the 1978 book Beast and Man: The Roots of Human Nature and the 1992 book Science as Salvation: A Modern Myth and Its Meaning. The latter deals with the sometimes heroic, sometimes prophetic roles science has assigned itself, and stories scientists tell themselves about scientific enterprise. She “argues that science always sees the world through the lens of some orienting story,” according to the website of the Ideas program series “How to think about Science” broadcast on CBC One.) To Midgley, scientists have come to need metaphors that have some sort of emotional background, and some direction from which it comes. Even those who stick to bare-bone facts in a barren landscape, she says, adhere to strong self-dramatizing stories, each with the hope they can answer one of our many questions.

[While we concur with her on this point, we don’t believe this had its origins in the 17th century. According to Wikipedia, she’s a strong opponent of both reductionism and scientist ideas,which, in her view, attempt to make science a substitute for the humanities, a role she believes, to which it is ill-suited. Hear an interview with Mary Midgley on episode 21 of the CBC Radio One (2008), Ideas program entitled “How to think about science” at   http://www.cbc.ca/ideas/episodes/2009/01/02/how-to-think-about-science-part-1---24-listen/#episode21]

Brian Wynne from the University of Lancaster in the U.K., and author of Misunderstanding Science? who points out that science commitments to particular frameworks which are not themselves being tested. Rather, for some unclear “scientific” reason, they’re just assumed to be valid starting points also more likely assumed to rise above normal standards of scientific skepticism or inquiry. Of interest to us in his analysis is the generally unspoken fact that “commitments” imply a form of emotional process mediating the experience, also an emotional commitment anchored to a number of limited base assumptions about reality, which may or may not be true.

[Hear Wynne’s views addressed in greater detail in his feature interview on CBC Radio One’s Ideas program at: http://www.cbc.ca/ideas/episodes/2009/01/02/how-to-think-about-science-part-1---24-listen/#episode10]

Peter Galison, a Harvard physicist and author of The Disunity of Science who specializes in the role theory plays in the establishment of data reduction and how large groups decide something is real. He likens the dialogue among scientific disciplines to a “trading zone” in which negotiation among distinct assumption sets occurs that, among other things, reveals any given theory’s range of applicability and how social dynamics enter into the scientific picture. This “language disconnect” among disciplines leads to more than disunity. It can foster competition among theoretical constructs for supremacy, which can overthrow old paradigms in favour of new, perhaps improved, ones. He believes this process then elicits anxiety in people who no longer know which theories they should trust as foundations for their work or point of view. From the perspective of mainstream psychology and VPT, we believe he is describing as “anxiety” nothing other than tension between cognitive dissonance and consonance that arises in science. To resolve this anxiety, he believes science must become more pluralistic; something consistent with what VPT predicts will need to be science’s final foray in applying the Integrating Self Function.

[For more about Peter Galison, listen to Episode 17 of the CBC Radio One series How to think about Science at: http://www.cbc.ca/ideas/episodes/2009/01/02/how-to-think-about-science-part-1---24-listen/ Also see: Harvard University link – http://www.physics.harvard.edu/people/facpages/galison.html]

John Spencer, a doctoral graduate from Liverpool University who was examined in both the Department of Physics and the Department of Philosophy, and author of The Eternal Law: Ancient Greek Philosophy, Modern Physics and Ultimate Reality, a text Roger Penrose described as “enormously refreshing”. Spencer explores a number of fundamental questions, such as: What does it mean to say there is an eternal mathematical law underpinning physical reality; how can we expand our narrow conception of science to include both logic and intuition, as well as consciousness and the pursuit of beauty?