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Which is more idiotic, the purported woo of scientism or mysticism?

November 6th, 2013 · 3 Comments


This is another debate about the ‘limits of science’, but, more, a debate over the real meaning of the science we have.
The stance of Harris and Shermer has a puzzling arrogance, while Chopra tends to pick on issues that are not easily resolved.

Chopra, for example, takes up non-locality, and bungles the job. But the response of Shemer and Harris isn’t much better. Although I never exploit non-locality physics (I haven’t studied enough for one thing), and find Chopra’s use of the idea doubtful, the closed minds of Harris, and Shermer don’t help much. Here is the reality, as I suspect: modern physics simply bursts out of confines of its older reductionist paradigm. But noone can quite get it straight.

Here’s my guess on non-locality, as a suspicion I am reluctant to divulge at this point, because the physics is not clear: physics is beginning to touch/impinge on something clearly predicted by Kant: that space-time are categories of the mind itself. Well, maaybe so, and maybe not. But the implication of the Kantian hypothesis is that space and time are in some sense not ultimate. In some ways the point is trivial. Thousands of philosopher have always said so, as a metaphysics, and the reason is the simple fact that time, eespecially, evokes its logical opposite, the timeless. What that means is not so easy to explain, but the simple logic of antithesis points to something beyond time. Space is the same, but not so easily thought about: logically there must be an opposite to ‘space’ and in fact it must be a missing component to all discussions of, say, the ‘big bang’. Suddenly the issue sounds trivially true, although hard for science to pursue. But, with non-locality is has almost by definition begun to impinge on that Kantian stance on space-time.

In general Chopra is expressing frustration that modern physics is hiding a lot of things under the bed, even a it pursues the scientism of the nineteenth century. So Chopra is right, in a way, but muddles the questions. It might help to read a life of Schrodinger ( a fan of Schopenhauer) at the dawn of quantum physics. This founder succeeded because he had a larger view of the subject than what scientists get today.

Harris is a very destructive thinker: at the risk of seeming anti-semitic, he has that ‘boy we’re smart’ snobbery that looks down on people like Chopra (who is probabaly smarter than Harris) and and yet thinks that in scientism he has found the ultimate truth. Harris is a puzzle, and warning of dangers of bad science: he presumes to tell us he is an expert on meditation, but can’t handle the topic of ‘enlightenment’. That’s hard to grasp. Harris has explored this world at length, but has filtered the reality of enlightenment. Amazing. Smart high-IQ types (inlcuding Jews) might be cautioned that science training takes about thirty points of IQ away from supersmart people. Why, because is is a mechanical method that excludes vast sectors of reality, and forbits the use of ‘natural dialectic’ or the situation of opposites, that don’t compute.

Chopra might consider the legacy of Gautama who focussed on meditation, and didn’t speculate about much.

I think that Chopra tends to take up correct challenges to science, and then extend them in the wrong direction. It is true that the materialism of the last century or two is now seen to be limited, but we can’t really resolve materialism yet. Same for neuroscience.

This is a dangerous situation: science wants to take total control of human cultural, human beliefs, with a narrow view of scientism. Although I don’t really agree with Chopra, he serves the purpose of challenging the cult of scientism.

Tags: General

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Nk // Dec 22, 2013 at 11:22 am

    Pigliucci hit the nail on the head. Contemporary physicists are philistines compared to the older generation:

    “I don’t know what’s the matter with physicists these days. It used to be that they were an intellectually sophisticated bunch, with the likes of Einstein and Bohr doing not only brilliant scientific research, but also interested, respectful of, and conversant in other branches of knowledge, particularly philosophy. These days it is much more likely to encounter physicists like Steven Weinberg or Stephen Hawking, who merrily go about dismissing philosophy for the wrong reasons, and quite obviously out of a combination of profound ignorance and hubris (the two often go together, as I’m sure Plato would happily point out). The latest such bore is Lawrence Krauss, of Arizona State University.”


  • 2 nemo // Dec 22, 2013 at 11:37 am

    Good comment: upgraded to a post today

  • 3 Comment: “I don’t know what’s the matter with physicists these days” // Dec 22, 2013 at 11:38 am

    […] Nk on Which is more idiotic, the purported woo of scientism or mysticism? […]

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