“I am no Einstein,” Einstein once said. On top of all his other qualities, the man was modest. Photo by Oren Jack Turner courtesy
The title to this post is a question, and I don’t have the answer. But scientists don’t understand the dynamics of their own science. If we examine the ‘macro effect’ we see that in classical antiquity science at its birth in the Axial interval shows ‘macro determination’ while in the wake we see science go into decline, and nearly petered out. But so did everything else. Proponents for medieval and Islamic (and Chinese) science notwithstanding. The dynamic follows the clear pattern of ‘system action’ and ‘free action’ we see throughout world history. Thus scientists clearly don’t control the history of science.
Note this then: twice the rise of science in the context of ‘system action’ and in the first its decline in the interval of ‘free action’.
Should we expect science to once again die out? We can’t predict. The model shown allows free action which can rescue science from oblivion (but where before it completely failed to do that). I always assumed that modern science was so much more robust than the ancient version, many of the texts of which failed to survive, that it would survive handily. But now i am not so sure. Completely unforeseen by me was the possibility of a physics stalled in string theory: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=bankrupting+physics: Bankrupting Physics. Farewell to Reality actually connects physics to issues of transcendental idealism, with the implication that a phenomenal/noumenal distinction is at work, a grim obstacle to the penetration of deep reality. I cannot conclude the argument. Science is so strongly supported now that its physical continuation is probably assured. But it could become very mechanical in its operation, something we already see in darwinian evolution, neo-classical economics, and, I dread to say it, physics. The problem is visible in the way scientists can do science, and complex math, but can’t so easily do foundational questions. And they can’t figure out when they have failed.
Surely a new paradigm is possible that can do what the previous did?? Physics is different: physicists seem to sense there is a problem. But the larger of question of science is opaque: a theory of evolution doesn’t exist, and no progressive research program can seem to figure this out. Psychology is pretty thin soup. It has no theory of consciousness. Economics just spins its wheels, and takes no notice of its critics.
A fatal lack of a key ingredient is probably the source of the problem for evolutionism (not the same as low-level biology which looks like a standard science): it can’t process values. Only facts. Crude analysis, but devastating.
Looking at the macro effect in world history ‘evolution’ as portrayed does little but process values. Does the origin of life science need a foundation of values next to facts? I can’t answer such a question, but I do suspect that the biological domain operates with some factor of the value domain next to its hard parameters. And it deals with the intangible ‘evolution of freedom’.
That’s bad news for bad theories, but it is no obstacle to good theories. I don’t think the classical ‘decline and fall’ of science is inevitable this time around, but as noted the last generation has seen some unnerving slippage…
John Horgan may yet be vindicated. Check out that grin…