Part II: Explaining reason and
We are supposed to be living in a scientific world. However, a large
majority of people, while affected in their life by science and
technology, are still ignorant of some of the main
features of science.
Some features of science are widely known and/or can readily be
found explained at many places (you can make a search...). However,
I will present here some deeper aspects that are often ignored,
especially by naive people, so as to resolve a number of widespread
Some of the main characters of science
Let us sum up some of the main principles of science, that is
the scientific approach to the truth and the search for the truth.
Accuracy : every concept
involved should be as clear and well-defined as possible. The role
of this criteria is to prevent risks for the reasoning to end up to
false conclusions. To say this in other words, we can see this as
the task of either being exact, or at least ensuring that the
approximations made (not always quantitative, but also
conceptual) will be small enough to not wrong
the conclusion, as far as we are expecting this
conclusion to be close to the truth on the issue being studied.
If the issue in question is naturally clear and simple, the risk of
wrong approximations may be low. However, on harder issues, it may
become a major problem, thus requiring a lot of work and
intelligence to be resolved. This may be because of the harder
complexity of the issue, and/or because the right concepts by which
a given aspect of reality would need to be analyzed for being
properly understood, are not given in advance, and still need to be
discovered, ifever it is indeed possible to discover any relevant
Logical Positivism : the
truths that science normally searches for, can be roughly split
into 2 kinds (though, in practice, many will be mixtures of them).
The conceptual reconstruction of
reality : the means at our disposal (our senses) do not
give us any direct perception of reality, but this sort of
limitation is not a real limit to our understanding of reality. On
the contrary, the very scientific research as we just specified (in
terms of logical positivism), provides for an effective
understanding of reality, or at least, of the aspects of reality
that are of concern to us. This is operated by the work of
formulating the logical expressions relating our perceptions
(discovered as those which best distinguish the most
probable series of perceptions, from the impossible or most
unlikely ones), in their clearest, best understandable form. Indeed,
such a clearest understanding (expression) of these logical
structures requires to develop a number of key intermediate
concepts. And these key intermediate concepts are what plays the role of the elements
of reality as we can understand it. They are the image (translation,
approximation), which we can form in our minds, of elements of
reality which are outside it. (Example: when looking at the Titan
pictures, there are many intermediate concepts involved in the
interpretation of this perception, representing different elements
- Those that come as necessary consequences of conceptual
accuracy. Namely, the ideal case of these, are the mathematical
theorems. More generally, it is the work of developing and
refining concepts, drawing the precise consequences and
connections between concepts, so as to bring conceptual tools
which make it possible to express and develop the other sort of
- Those that give information on possible perceptions from
the world, which we can observe. This is roughly the
principle of empiricism (to infer what will happen, as a
continuation of what already happened), but should be
distinguished from a naive form of empiricism, by the careful
details, accuracy, and conceptual depth in which it is
proceeded. Indeed, anyway, all the perception we can have from
the world (except possibly by introspection or supernatural
means; we shall discuss this issue later), is made of the
(extremely large) information transmitted to our mind from our
senses through our nerves. Therefore, the object of scientific
research and knowledge (outside pure mathematics) is to point
out logical (or anyhow clearly understandable) relations between
the available information (as either personally observed
or collectively recorded, like the one in a library), which
can inform us on the question: in the gigantic mathematical set
of all "arbitrary" series of perceptions (such as the set of all
28N possible files describing the series of
perceptions as N bytes of information), what is the (eventually
very indirect) expression of the classification
between those most likely to be the ones we shall perceive,
versus the impossible or unlikely ones.
Non-essentialism : the
way things behave, or the role they play, is not always a matter of
what their deep nature is, or whether things indeed have a deeper
nature or not. Indeed, consider a situation when something would
have an essence or deep nature of a deeper level than what is being
considered at a given step of understanding. Then, of two things
one: either this deeper nature has observable effects on the
behavior of this thing, in which case the observation of this
external behavior can provide information on this deeper nature, so
that, somehow, this deeper nature is observable (and the information
from these observations can provide us with a scientific
understanding of what it looks like, even if it is not a full
understanding). Or it does not (getting rid of its consideration
provides the best available approximations or predictions of its
behavior). In this case, such considerations of a deeper nature,
insofar as they could not help making more accurate expectations,
are irrelevant to the understanding of these things, as if they were
not an element of the reality of this world, but of another world
disconnected from this one.
In other words, the understanding of something, is mainly not a
matter of "what this thing is", but of how it behaves, what role it
plays, which way it connects to other things around.
Pragmatism : scientists
must adapt their research methods to the specific contexts of
what they want to study, for which the most effective research
methods are not always the same from a subject to another, because
different aspects of reality cannot always connect in the same way
to our means of investigation.
Also, naming some extensive list of guidelines for scientific
research, would usually be irrelevant: scientificity is not about
applying an exact list of principles fixed in advance, but about
developing and training a more extensive form of commonsense. The
work of the scientist cannot be replaced by machines. Machines can
help the scientist by operating the repetitive application of
some already well-established principles, but the work of scientists
will always be necessary for providing a wider understanding of
large conceptual systems, and leading research projects. This
ability is highly dependent on the context of natural skills,
personal training of intelligence and known facts. Most scientists
did not (or not much) follow any course on the scientific method in
the way philosophers imagine, but spend much more effort,
either studying mathematics (proofs...) to train their thinking
ability and gather some mathematical concepts that may be useful to
them later, or gathering a wide range of specific information on
their field of study.
For example, some fields of research have the possibility of
making experiments, for observations to be more extensive and
provide more complete information on the reality that is
considered; while this is not (or less) possible in other fields
like astronomy where stars and galaxies can only be observed and not
be subjects of any experiment.
Plato's cave, rationality levels, and non-essentialism issues.
Many people already heard about the
Allegory of the Cave, (as it is often taught in high school
philosophy classes). Let us recall it in short [quotation from
The story further explains how hard it is to try to free the
prisoners, who considered the shadows they saw to be the reality,
and first have a hard time adapting to the real things and getting
familiar to them.
"Socrates describes a group
of people who have lived chained to the wall of a cave all of
their lives, facing a blank wall. The people watch shadows
projected on the wall by things passing in front of a fire
behind them, and begin to ascribe forms to these shadows.
According to Socrates, the shadows are as close as the
prisoners get to viewing reality. He then explains how the
philosopher is like a prisoner who is freed from the cave and
comes to understand that the shadows on the wall are not
constitutive of reality at all, as he can perceive the true
form of reality rather than the mere shadows seen by the
This allegory can be seen as an image of what science could finally
accomplish, the way it could go beyond immediate experience and
understand the deep structures underlying the things we can
see, through the understanding of many other concepts far away from
those naturally appearing and useful to everyday life.
Especially, Math and Physics are absolutely amazing, in how far deep
they could reach in their respective domains of study.
Unfortunately, and just as this allegory says, most of these
subjects, and how wonderful they are, cannot be easily explained to
the lay people.
Another solution, instead of trying to free someone from his chains,
is to try to show him an image of the real things by projecting
their shadow on the wall he can see. This is the work of science
popularization: not a real presentation of things as they can really
be understood, but sorts of metaphors roughly explaining how they
look like in a way or another.
Some people in search of truth, when looking at these shadows of
science that science popularization is, may complain that these
shadows are not clear, will find inconsistencies there, and
will want to criticize these images as not satisfying, not being the
ultimate explanations. Somehow they are right that these shadows are
not the ultimate explanation, but when complaining so, they are
missing the fact that these popularized presentation are not the
full account of the currently established scientific understanding
either. Another usual wrong complaint is to make the mistake of
essentialism (failing to understand the justification for the
non-essentialism of science that we explained above). These
misunderstandings can lead to dramatic consequences where some
people may come to dedicate their life to trying to put forward
alternative views in opposition to established science. This issue
will be further developed later.
However, there is no absolute separation between teaching and
popularization (between getting freed to understand the depth of
things, or only seeing their shadow). No absolute separation, but
still a difference (distance) between them, that can eventually be
How can this be, you may ask, while all scientific understanding is
operated by the same fundamental kind of rational ability of the
human mind in its ordinary state, the same which is operated by lay
people and lead them to so many mistakes ?
First, we can note that it does not matter how surprising or
illogical this may sound: anyway it is a fact, so that denying it
just based on its oddness, would lead nowhere.
Then, it can be understood as a non-essentialist truth: it does not
matter what science is made of; what matters is the role it plays.
The role played by science cannot be properly reduced to the
question of what it is made of. It is the same kind of people in
themselves, that can as well be prisoners only looking at shadows on
the wall, or going out from the cave. Science plays the role of a way
out of the cave, and this is all the best that ought to be expected
from a vision of the truth on the world we live in.
So, how can it be, and what does its difference from the basic
use of reason consist of ?
One of the main answers, is that it is a matter of complexity.
Ordinary reason is enough to correctly solve simple problems of
everyday life with sufficient accuracy or reliability for practical
purposes, but it fails when faced with more complex or faraway
problems, where the conceptual approximations made by an
ordinary mind are not right, and inaccuracies are either too big or
too numerous, so that they happen to add up into major mistakes in
the conclusions. Also, some necessary key concepts for the
understanding of some issues, may be completely missed by people who
are not familiar with them. Some key concepts require a lot of work
to be learned, going through a lot of preliminaries.
So, here again, the very concept of rationality needs to be
understood in a non-essentialist sense: it makes no sense to qualify
a person as either rational or irrational in the absolute, but only
as a description of the role
played by this mind relatively to the purpose of
understanding a given problem or domain of reality.
The same person can happen to be rational towards some issues, and
irrational towards other issues.
We previously saw another example how something's behavior can be
very dissimilar with its deep nature: the case of spirituality with
its essentialist conception of altruism, understood as an intrinsic
quality of a person. Spiritual people are missing the fact that, in
order to be really useful to others (rather than keeping one's
altruism for oneself and then down to the grave), a real effective
altruism needs to be understood as an extrinsic quality, made of the
effective ways in which someone interacts with the rest of the
world, and what consequences on others these actions finally
Let us give some more details on the non-essentialism of science,
with the case of how it goes for physics.
There is are a diversity of sciences which study different aspects
of reality. This is possible as these different aspects of reality
can be considered and understood more or less independently from
each other (each can be somehow neglected in the study of others),
even though they are aspects of the same global reality, and
therefore also have connections between them. Physics is one of
them; but it is itself divided into several theories describing each
a different aspect of the physical universe. These theories can be
understood more or less independently from each other.
Among these theories, some describe deeper aspects of
reality (a deeper essence of things) than others.
For example, quantum physics is deeper than classical physics and
chemistry, as it provides a common foundation explaining both and
how they can both describe aspects of the same reality. General
relativity is deeper than Newton's law of gravitation. So, if we
want to approach the understanding of the (relatively more) ultimate
nature of the physical universe, then the deeper theories are those
we should focus on. But if we want to understand some specific
phenomena of concern to us, it often happens for less deep
theories to be much more relevant, because they provide useful
approximations that greatly simplify the problems and provide more
direct and understandable solutions.
For example, the mass of the proton has been at last computed
to a reasonable approximation, out of the known more fundamental
laws (which had been understood well before already), by a
supercomputer in year 2008. This hardness to obtain such a
basic result as the mass of the proton out of the known more
fundamental laws that determine it, suggests how desperate
it may be to pretend that the understanding of any significant
practical aspect of reality, should be best obtained by deducing it
from any supposedly most ultimate first principles.
So, the point of the scientific approach is not to be for or against
the research of more fundamental principles underlying given
phenomena to better understand them: indeed, such a research of more
fundamental principles has been successfully proceeded many times by
science much better than by any other philosophy.
But it is about carefully adapting the orientation of the research
on any subject, either towards deeper explanations or not, depending
on what happens to be fruitful for the wanted purpose.
As a result of this non-essentialism, it is often said that science
rejected metaphysics. In a way this is true, however it is not the
whole story. What is true is that scientists rejected most of the
works that philosophers had done on the issue, either because it was
fuzzy (and generally irrational : we shall explain in further
details what is irrationality), or because it was irrelevant to
their work (because of the non-essentialism of science vs. the
traditional essentialism of metaphysics). But this does not mean
science would have no access to any metaphysical truth.
The problem is that, usually, scientists focus on scientific
truths, that is, accurate and verifiable truths, rather than fuzzy
truths, so that they don't want to "waste their time" discussing on
fuzzy ideas and explaining things in fuzzy terms. The result is that
they kept their knowledge for themselves and hardly ever cared
properly explaining it to philosophers and/or to the public. Also,
as they are at ease with complex ideas, they don't see the point to
try explaining them in simpler terms.
Science is knowledge, as opposed to faith
Another way to characterize science, is to define it as knowledge.
And, there are two opposites of knowledge, which are faith and
But, this definition requires a clarification, to not mistake
the meaning the word "faith" here, with some other meanings
often given by religions. Indeed, religions usually define "faith"
to mean either hope, trust in God, belief in
afterlife, adhesion to some specific doctrine, or any mixture
Here, for this definition of science, the involved meanings of the
knowledge = justified belief = clarified belief
faith = unjustified belief = unclarified belief
Indeed, the very concept of unjustified belief is more or less based
on its lack of clarification. This is because a belief normally
consists in holding a claim as justified.
If someone fully understood the fact that his belief is not
justified (including with his personal, unsharable experience), then
this understanding "should" drive him to stop doing as if it was
justified, thus stop believing in the claim and start considering it
as a mere hypothesis waiting for future evidence for or against it
In other words, scientific inquiry can be described as being neither
satisfied with an absence of belief (ignorance) nor with a presence
of unclarified belief, but only with a work of examination of things
which may lead to clarified beliefs. This may require to review a
number of hypothesis without believing them at first, until,
eventually, some may turn out to be justified.
This does not mean that a scientist has no faith or philosophy of
life (indeed, there are too many issues in life, and it is not
humanly possible to carefully check every belief that one needs to
follow). But this means that the scientific work is a work that must
care to be unaffected by one's possible faiths. This can be done
because the scientific work is a specialized work, dealing every
time with a precise question that can be solved independently from
the rest of ideas that cannot be clarified yet.
Precisely, the point is not always to ensure that some given
conclusion is free of assumption, but the point is to clarify
which are the assumptions that a conclusion is based on. So, if a
conclusion B depends on an assumption A while A is not well-proven
yet, then the "real conclusion" of the work is that (A => B).
This makes it possible for other researchers, to either know
that B is true in the case they first knew that A is true based
on other justifications, or ignore the work as pointless (without
"disagreeing with it") if they consider A to be false or unlikely.
Such a work of clarifying all the assumptions that a conclusion
depends on (while only neglecting the mention of the assumptions
that can't be subject to a "reasonable doubt"), can be a very hard
work where mistakes may happen. But well, this is precisely why
science is often a work to be reserved to professionals (another
reason is the fact that each work may require many premises for
drawing a conclusion, and only professionals may be familiar with
the available body of knowledge which can supply for needed
premises, and thus orient the kind of work that may be relevant).
There is not, or at least there should not be, such a thing as a
"faith in reason".
Reason is the ability and efficiency of work towards a distinction
of which belief is justified and which is not, as well as to develop
works that have more chances to reach the point of providing clear,
Whenever it succeeds to provide clear evidence for something, there
is no point anymore to see there any "faith in reason", because it
no more depends on any faith, but it presents full justifications
for the conclusions. Of course, it depends on the assumption that
one is not foolish enough to mistakenly see clear evidences where
there would be none; but well, there has to be some limits to such a
thing as Descartes' thought experiment of an "hyperbolic doubt",
which leads nowhere (imagine if you started to doubt your ability to
check how much is 2+2).
What about the time when a question has not been solved yet ?
Indeed we can see a faith in the motivation to do the research:
a hope, a belief, not yet fully justified, in the idea that the
scientific search has a chance to succeed, that some verified
knowledge can be obtained on the considered subject. This belief is
not yet justified, because, well indeed, by definition of a
discovery, it cannot be predicted. So, it is not always a knowledge,
but it may also be a personal creed, which humanly stimulates the
process of scientific research, but must not be mistaken as an axiom
that could serve by itself to justify any claim in the scientific
This can better be understood by presenting it the other way round:
the opposite belief, claiming that the scientific research for a
justified understanding on some specific issue would be hopeless, is
usually not justified either.
Of course, there are exceptions: some knowledge could be obtained
showing the (either absolute or most probable) impossibility to
resolve some problems. It is for example absolutely impossibile to:
Other expectations of knowledge can be unreasonable too, such
- find an algebraic solution to the generic 5th degree equation
or to the 3-body problem of Newtonian mechanics;
- (according to Gödel's incompleteness theorem) prove or
disprove the Gödel's arithmetical formula of a given
axiomatic system (expressing "this claim is not provable")
inside the formalism of the same system;
- Prove or disprove the Continuum hypothesis in the ZF set
- travel or transfer information faster than the speed of light
c through technological
But, after all, we can now accept as empirically justified, the
claim that reason is very powerful to discover many things in our
universe, because we could observe and verify its success during the
last centuries, and there is no reason to believe that this progress
would suddenly stop now.
- knowing the lost contents of the famous destroyed Biblioteca
- giving significantly more reliable predictions of the output
of quantum randomness devices than the probability predictions
of quantum theory; in practice: predicting the winning number of
- detecting traces of life from the Andromeda galaxy during the
In fact, the character of logical positivism (describing
the information on our perceptions), is very often the
essential criteria (principle) after which to clarify whether a
question, claim or theory is decidable by reason (or at least
subject to scientific inquiry and possible progress
of knowledge), and also whether it is of any importance (indeed
this "frequent or approximate equivalence" between logical
positivism, verifiability and effective importance, is itself a
More empirical and other reliable justifications can be found (we
shall present some in Part III), of some claims (and attitudes
of many scientists) on the respective statuses of science and
religion, and what an awful source of mistakes the religions most
famous in the West often turn out to be.
Still, there are some unfortunate remaining forms of faith in
the rationalist attitude of some scientists (which fortunately are
not actually mistaken with scientific knowledge... at least not too
much). Most of this can be understood as a reaction against
religious claims (once observed how wrong on so many other issues,
are the religions and other propagandists making such opposite
- The faith in the possibility to unify the known laws of
physics (general relativity + quantum physics with the
standard model + dark matter + dark energy...), finding out the
right quantum "theory of everything" (TOE) during the next few
decades, and/or that it would indeed be the ultimate
knowledge of fundamental importance for mankind, solving the
main philosophical problems. Well, this can be fine as a
personal motivation for research, and be motivated by the real
wonderful successes of fundamental physics up to the 1970's, but
considering how far are our particle accelerators from reaching
the Planck energy, and the huge difficulties of making any
testable predictions from candidate unification theories,
this does not look like the most reliable creed on Earth... (I
personally have no opinion on this question in the long term).
- The faith in ontological materialism (that there would be no
truly paranormal phenomena, that the mind would be a material
phenomenon emerging from biological processes obeying the
known laws of physics), or, as it is likely equivalent to
based on the existing knowledge in physics (we shall explain in
Part III), the faith that the quantum measurement issues would
not be the place for the mind-matter interaction: that these
paradoxes would be "not a problem" to materialism
(accepting, for example, the Everett's many-worlds
interpretation as a solution), or that the future theory of
everything can solve them by replacing the quantum
randomness by some determination (this is not the project
of current candidate TOE, which remain quantum theories
preserving the measurement randomness and paradoxes as such).
- Opinions that "God is dead" as if the public opinion had
to obey to the last famous writer's argument...
Several parts of this texts have been moved to separate
Some quotations on MBTI personality
On the nature of irrationality,
and generalities about pseudo-science
An example I have worked on:
Nottale's Scale Relativity "theory"
The academic institutions
So, we explained that the consensus among scientists in a field
(especially in hard sciences) is generally the most reliable sign of
truth (among all available means of inquiry in the same world at the
same time) as concerns their research subjects. This is already
interesting, but leaves many questions unanswered, because many
important questions are not currently the subject of any serious
Note that the trust expressed here towards the scientific
consensus, is basically not a trust towards institutions, but a
trust towards the global behavior of some community of people, based
on how reason works, disregarding the administrative structure that
currently hires them. Hopefully there are many cases when official
institutional positions properly reflect serious scientific
findings, but there can be exceptions too. This can either be
Instances of 1. will be listed in the below section. Now let us
present an important instance of 2, the question: how should
education be organized and which knowledge or skills should be
taught at every level, from the curriculum contents to the practical
management (admission requirements, schedules, pedagogical tools,
types of interaction between students and faculty, obligations,
exams and the administrative roles of exams and diplomas for the
working of the curriculum and the insertion in the rest of society).
- the established official community working on the subject is
not made of really qualified people (or: their training and the
conditions of academic recognition they must follow does not
favor the right form of discernment), or
- the issue (subject of claims by an institution) is
not directly the research subject of any established scientific
community, but an aspect of the political forces and paradigms
which determine the behavior of these institutions.
The situation and its assessment may depend on countries,
viewpoints, types of students, possible diversity among institutions
of each country (with marginally some very different systems from
the norm), and goals and criteria for comparison.
For example, the scientific teaching level has often been quite
higher in the Soviet Union and some Asian countries, than in most of
Western European and U.S. countries at the same years and ages of
secondary and high school. A higher teaching level for some age may
fit some of the best students, but be very hard to others, while a
lower teaching level can be awfully boring to the most clever
Still, in average, the most frequent situation is quite awful,
especially in a way that can roughly be described as a dire lack of
freedom for pupils and students: the rules to follow are, for
many pupils, far from the most favorable circumstance to
their development and fulfillment of any kind (compared to
alternatives with similar costs).
The situation in this field is quite paradoxical because the
teaching and academic management activities, especially in higher
education, are an essential component of the official duty of a
large majority of scientists, and are so crucial to the life and
career of the next generation of scientists, but they happen to be
so wrongly done in some ways, because the full question of the
global design of how academic institutions should work and what
tasks should scientists be hired for, was not actually
developed as a genuine research subject.
In fact, the academic system as a whole is not a decided
well-thought conception of scientists (but only, if I don't mistake,
a thought of the Enlightenment philosophers modeled after the
practices of religious academies and finally fixed by decisions
of states, with no significant design update since then), and its
role has never been to properly share and show what science really
is. Its main role was to be a democratically and administratively
stable way of managing a population, the overwhelming majority of
which has no chance to really understand science anyway; to provide
them with diplomas, hopefully (but not always reasonably) likely to
let them chances to find a job (especially among public institutions
themselves, to reliably avoid any genuine connection to reality,
such as a free market would provide). Only little hints of real
science were reflected there. Scientists have been the servants of
this system, mainly because they hardly had any other option to keep
In this context, many individual scientists do notice the problem,
sometimes speak and write about it (unless some obligation of
political correctness linked with their job prevents it), and
eventually try to do something about it, but overall they remain
rather powerless against it.
Lectures" (how the practical form of teaching/learning by
"live lectures" is made obsolete by technology)
"The Role of the
Professor" (which would consist in renewing of the
curriculum contents: cleaning, restructuring and updating it to
existing knowledge, serving as an intermediate between teachers and
researchers; this role is actually neglected by the institutions, in
favor of the 2 disconnected activities of teaching an research)
and teaching, article and long discussion on what is going
wrong in the academic system; for example "in almost every field there are way too many students per
In the same
blog, ("spaces" article):
over I have found people who reject the notion of mathematics
being a universal language, and who discard it as insufficient
for reality. They are dead wrong to do so of course, but since
I've encountered this attitude over and over again, I want to
dedicate some paragraphs to what I believe is the origin of this
At the very beginning is, of
course, school education. Unfortunately, what's called
mathematics in school has little to do with mathematics. It
should more aptly be called calculation."
not using any US public-school textbooks in those areas: science
textbooks below the high-school level are often factually wrong.
Even at the high-school level, many are disasters (check out the
reviews from the Textbook League). And history texts for US
public schools tend to be utterly boring and bloodless: how they
manage to transmute the reality of history – heroes and
villains, nobility and murder most foul – into stunningly
unappetizing pabulum is a great mystery."
"the most important point that
is distinctive about our approach is the emphasis on teaching
significant content about science and history as early and as
fully as possible. This would be very hard in the public schools
because of the “urge to test.”
Harry Potter Way
François Taddei (French biologist, founder of wiser-u):
son was 6, he went to class like all children, his teacher told
me: "This child is charming, but... he asks questions." Since
that day, I ask myself questions on the educational system".
"If your job looks like chess,
prepare to change your job"
Albert Einstein (who was INTP, and quite a bad pupil):
a miracle that curiosity survives formal education."
and teaching: "The
unfortunate thing is that the lack of value assigned to teaching
seems very systemic, to the point of being embedded in the culture"
- "High school has managed to
convince many students that physics is a dogmatic,
memorization-centered subject. As a result, they don’t have the
skills necessary to solve real physics problems, because all that
they have learned to do is to pattern-match and to plug-and-chug"
A famous example was the French mathematician Evariste
Galois. He made some pioneering work in group theory (fixing
the name "group"), as well as a whole field of algebra now
named after him: Galois theory (about algebraic equations). He died
in 1832 at the age of 20 as a final result of his
unsustainable troubles with the world and the academic system,
which happened to make life quite hard to him as a genius (hard
inadequate school work and troubles to be accepted and find
A possible way to describe the problem is in terms of MBTI typology.
We previously mentioned that types are correlated with profession,
and in particular, that the types of Teachers are preferably EFJ,
and a few more types around it. But a very Fequently Unasked
Question, is what is the right personality type for a very peculiar
job: the job of the Pupil ? Now you can take it as an exercise to check
MBTI test (or from any other testing or describing page) and
figure out the right answers which the Pupil should give
to each of the four questions: what is the right personality type a
good Pupil should have.
Are you done ?
Of course, the right answers come to form a unique type quite
straightforwardly. Then you can go and check the description of
this type, which will confirm that this is indeed the
correct type qualifying one to be a good Pupil.
Now, remember a big claim of the school system: that it does
everything to provide fair chances for all young people to succeed
in society, without any discrimination.
Traditionally (at least in France), this paranoid concern
for absolute fairness and equality of chances for all people,
has been focused towards the exclusive ideal of breaking social
boundaries by trying to cancel all possible correlation between
people's careers (social positions, incomes) and those of their
parents. To try to reach this goal, a lot of money has been invested
in education, together with a very big focus on the care to "treat
all pupils equally" by putting them together in the same classrooms
and providing them the same lessons.
So, teenagers are jailed in schools to protect them from all
possible influence of their parents (their respective social
ranks, their cultures that might contaminate them), so that none
will be "unfairly" favored as compared to others.
But it remained a big failure, as the correlations ("social
Our education ministers failed to notice that, if cancelling the
correlation between the careers of children and those of their
parents was really the purpose, then a much cheaper
and more reliable solution was available: to use a lottery
system for distributing diplomas.
More seriously, the basic situation is that there are a diversity of
needs, interests and abilities between people who are diversely
fitted for the many possible jobs needed by the economy to properly
function, so that not all pupils need to do the same thing and
follow the same curriculum for preparing to the jobs that best fit
them. In such conditions, treating them all the same induces a
hidden discrimination according to "how normal" every pupil is.
More specifically, this norm that school requires pupils to
conform to and after which they are selected to succeed, is not an
average (middle way) between all types of people, but it is a
specific end of the spectrum: the system discriminates people
according to how good ISTJ (or secondarily ESTJ, INTJ) they can
be. School makes these types, first feel much better than others,
then succeed best.
Do you wonder why social boundaries remain ? Well, if MBTI types are
given by nature (possibly genetically inherited, at least
partially), it is no mystery. The same with intelligence, which
school requires to stay just in the middle, as too intelligent
people cannot fit with the low level curriculum in force. But even
if the types are not natural but given by education, this is no
better: making everybody ISTJ with a limited intelligence and a life
spoiled by wasting the precious youth years doing stupid school
work, is no good solution for a sane economy which requires a
diversity of skills for a diversity of jobs.
For example, what's the point of forcing pupils to obey a time
schedule ? Why should it be better for the ones to spend the first
hour of the day learning this subject, and the next hour that other
subject, while it should be different for those who have been put
into another group of pupils at the beginning of the year ? Why
should it be different from a day to the next ? Why is it so
important to start lessons every day at the same time, rather than
to learn any other time of the day, regardless of how tired they may
be ? Why should a lesson be stopped after exactly the same amount of
time fixed in advance to switch to the next lesson, regardless of
whether the issue was completed or not ? Why should every pupil hear
exactly the same lesson at the same rhythm as the next pupil,
regardless of his troubles or easiness to understand it, and
regardless of his curiosity to more closely examine a detail
or ask any question ? Why should it be the same schedule from a
week to the next ? How many jobs on Earth except school
teachers, need to be structured in this precise way ? Okay,
some do in a way, such as doctors; but even if some features can be
seen as common, many other features are usually quite more
By the way, what are the jobs for ISTJ ? Their list of preferred
jobs includes: Inspector, administrator, manager, accountant,
school director, police officer and prison guard. ESTJ become
managers and organizers. Things that can indeed be useful for
society, but quite far from scientific research anyway, so that
school does not properly reflect science (just as it hardly reflects
the needed skills for any decent job in general). After being the
ones feeling at school like at home and succeeding, they will work
to ensure that everything remains the same.
Another problem with school, is the insane system of relationships
between pupils induced by this common pot: why nerds are
See also this
about autism (but autistic people and many other serious or
uncommon people such as geniuses, are facing the same problem):
"As for blaming autistic people's
difference for the cruelty we receive, that removes the
accountability of the people who are being cruel to autistic
people. It makes it sound as if autism is to blame for the harm
done to autistic people by others, which makes no more sense than
saying accent and skin color are to blame for racism. When a
person is being discriminated against for a quality, it's not that
quality that needs changing. Being bullied on the
schoolyard is not the fault of the autistic person for "looking
like an easy target", and being socially ostracized is not the
fault of the social aspects or "quirks" of autism."
Let's go further: geniuses are generally accused of not properly
adapting to the world.
Sorry, what are they required to adapt to ?
They are required to adapt to a system that has been artificially
designed and built up by society for the service of the sort of
pupils that is stupid and reluctant to learn. The very purpose why
the school exist, is to force
them to learn, through mental brute force methods destroying all
possible freedom of thought, to get more knowledge than they would
naturally do if their freedom of thought was respected.
The problem is that there are other types of pupils, (unfortunately
a small minority, therefore with no chance to have their lives
respected in a democracy), such that, if you let them just free,
they would naturally learn much more than what school is teaching
them. For them, school is an obstacle to their thirst of knowledge,
so that they desperately look for the little free time it lets them,
to start satisfying it.
How can this trouble be blamed on these intelligent pupils, how can
they be blamed for their inadaptation to this system precisely designed,
artificially built up and adapted for pretending that the best
adapted pupils are this majority of dumb ones, who would
naturally not learn (to adapt to a world of knowledge) and
therefore need brute force obligations to reach an appearance of
intellectual skills ?
In fact, for the true mentally sane pupils, serious enough to
better learn in free time than at school, the best adaptation method
would be to drop them out of this fools asylum as soon as possible.
And either let them learn by themselves (with books, internet...) or
in some specialized institution better suited to them.
Then, if you wish the question of how adapted to the real world they
are, to start making sense, there would be, in principle, a rather
more fair measure : to test them directly against the
world of job market, rather than the world of bureaucratic
standardized testing. But, there is one problem: many jobs, in
particular scientific jobs, are provided by public administration
and other quite bureaucratic organizations. As long as recruitments
there will be a matter of diplomas that require to go through
the mental torture of academic nonsense to be obtained, there is
little hope for change.
But the domination of the cult of diplomas as a substitute for
knowledge, is widespread. It is widespread among students, who
usually prefer to dedicate all their work to diplomas without being
really curious to anything or asking themselves any deeper question
on the subjects studied, or any question on the sense of their
life ; and if ever some rare student would dare to think out of
the curriculum, they would be strongly criticized for this by their
teachers, and coerced into changing their mind, as any intellectual
interest away from the race for diplomas would be a "waste of
time" leading to a failure of life (as it wastes the chance to get a
good job whatsoever).
But diplomas are not the only problem. Indeed, imagine an education
system ready to recruit self-taught as teachers. But, why would they
even be interested to bother coming to work there ?
Why should the young anti-conformist geniuses, even bother to search
for any means to have their skills recognized by this awful system ?
Recognized for what ? For getting the right to work for the
repetition of this standardized, awful way of teaching ? This
would be rather pointless, and even unbearable for some, not
the way to the intellectual fulfillment they are seeking.
Let us explain what forces lead school classes and curricula to
remain so boring, devoid of intelligence and imagination, full
of errors, light years away from the wonders of true science.
First, it is hard to figure out any possibility of improvement in
the teaching system: if you take the whole curriculum as it is, and
inside it, take a precise subject, and wonder how to best present
this subject at this level for students who followed the rest of the
curriculum as it is, then indeed, not much can be thought of as
a better way to do it. Instead, most genuine improvements would
require a serious research work for a global redesign of the
curriculum, which is harder to imagine, undertake or experiment.
Other necessities must be respected: be understandable by most
of the students as they come, with the precise knowledge they
previously acquired ; follow the official curriculum so as to let
students "speak the same language" as any other students of the
world; to prepare them to exams, and make their diplomas equivalent
to those of any other institutions.
In such conditions, freedom and innovations in curricula are rather
Thus, even INTPs who reached academic positions, cannot easily bring
their INTP souls in their teaching. Indeed, their margin of freedom
is both restricted by the administrators their job depends on, and
the backgrounds and expectations of the Pupils filling
the classrooms, who cannot accept to be required anything else
than to remain Pupils. Teachers falling under these
obligations, focus all the energies on distributing as many diplomas
as possible, rather than sharing the light of any meaningful
and interesting science.
The intermediate process between this mass arrival of ISTJ Pupils in
undergraduate level, and the final PhD success dominated
by INTPs, can be compared to the arrival of a high speed train
without brakes, to a series of obstacles ending at a wall, where
each obstacle is designed and installed by an independent agent made
fully responsible of the damage made by his own obstacle.
It is thus a slow but desperate failure of most Pupils, spread among
the years of study, where each teacher is hit by a part of the
failure, but is pressed by the different forces, to minimize this
part of the failure by emptying their lessons of any possibly
meaningful and interesting content, therefore keeping their lessons
so dull and boring, and forwarding a larger remaining part of the
Pupils with their necessary imminent failure, to the teachers
that will receive this population at the next level.
Apart from these obstacles, there is also a lack of incentive for
scientists to rethink the teaching curriculum. First is a lack of
institutional incentive, as scientists'career is determined by
the specialized research work to the exclusive interest of other
working scientists, not by the production of courses for students.
Second, a lack of personal, intellectual interest.
Indeed, most mathematicians and physicists (I don't know about other
fields) are usually not interested to think about the contents of
undergraduate teaching in their field, because they see these
subjects as "too simple" for them to think about, and quite boring
in comparison with their own high-level research. Indeed it is
boring and tedious, because it is so many hours just to present
"simple" concepts and prove "simple" results. They went through this
boring stuff as students, they had to accept it as such, and it was
so tedious and boring for them that they don't want to think about
it anymore. They just assume that this is the only way to do at this
level, because this is the way everybody is doing.
They prefer to think about new subjects, and would not be interested
to think again about what they already know, because they can't
consider that the way they learned and to which they adapted, could
have been far from the best possible way and deserved to be
questioned. Anyway they don't expect it to be a chance for them to
develop their creativity. It is not even a claim they are making, as
they did not even start addressing the question (it would not be
their job anyway).
We may consider that teaching institutions were necessary long ago,
when there were very few places of knowledge, and poor
communications methods, when there was no other practical way to
access knowledge than being present at the same place with the
professor who has this knowledge. Still, formal teaching is
necessary for some parts of education, such as for most primary
school pupils who need more the presence of adults for focusing on
the lesson. The situation is more variable at higher levels,
depending on the diversity of personalities among students,
and specific aspects of their learning work.
The necessity of formal lessons already started being
questionable long ago by the development of libraries, by which it
would have been possible for many students to learn by themselves at
negligible cost for society, making useless all the
expensive fuss of organizing for them classrooms, schedules and
teachers. A learning way restricted to such methods of negligible
cost, would already have ended the justification to care about
organizing all these exams that preselect who should be allowed as
students (if ever they had a sense of self-responsibility), and
therefore, the fuss of ensuring this selection to be fair.
As if tolerating a student to come and try learning something at no
cost for society, while he is not officially known as being properly
enough able to do it, was a wrong favor that should not be granted.
Where is the value of freedom linked to a sense of
self-responsibility here ?
What is this world of fools where some people should be forcefully
denied for their own sake the right to satisfy their curiosity in
some field of knowledge, just for fear they would later come back
and make troubles because they mistook this right to satisfying
their curiosity, with the "right" to later oblige some employer to
hire them for the skill in this field they mistakenly thought they
What is this world of fools where students are never supposed to be
able to find clues by their own means on the question whether they
are understanding something or not, so that they would all
absolutely need someone else to judge them and forcefully decide in
their place whether they do, and thus whether they should go on
learning this or that ? Where nobody even considered to publish
any self-assessment tool to help students take the responsibility of
their own life, rather than have as now some teachers take the
full decisions over it by some blind formal means ?
It remains a pitiful truth that very few students are really
interested in knowledge, nor willing to take any responsibility on
their own life. All what most of them want is diplomas. So,
academic institutions are there to provide them diplomas
disregarding whether the curriculum makes any scientific sense or
The pitiful situation is that every student's social struggle for
exterior signs and administrative acknowledgement of one's
knowledge (intellectual skills), has become for everybody (first
for administration itself, then forcing this on students) a sort
of exclusive concern and values system, serving as a
substitute for the reality of knowledge. The administration
manufactured, then forced on all the ideology according to which
the hardest a student socially struggles for the recognition
of his skills, the more knowledge this struggle will create in
him. In other words, all possibility of a natural intelligence is
banned and repressed, while only an artificial form of
intelligence, defined as manufactured by an
administrative dictatorship over all details of
students'minds and lives, is tolerated by society as an acceptable
form of intelligence.
In such conditions, the minority of gifted young people
(naturally inclined for knowledge), for whom learning should have
been easy and natural, are often confronted to a system that makes
life artificially harder to them: their natural skills are
repressed and mistaken for a form of hubris, and they are labelled
as "ambitious". Against them, a fighting field is opposed where
they are challenged to waste years of absurd efforts (absurd
school classes and homework) as a precondition to conquer the
right to officially become what they already were from the start.
By pretending to provide for the development of the skills, the
school system is (at least for some students) damaging and
endangering it. It is both damaging for the life (by being hard,
time-consuming and stressing), and for the intelligence (by being
of a lower level than could be done in a free time, to conform to
the lower average level of other students); and without a happy
life, intellectual productivity may be damaged. This may be seen
as a caricatural form of logical positivism where no intelligence
has the right to exist unless it is administratively measured.
Geniuses are accused of being ambitious, and of being personally
responsible (especially in the eyes of spiritual people) for
choosing the hassle that is put over them. But it may not really
be their choice: it is not their "fault" if they are naturally
clever and more thirsty of knowledge than others. Their real need,
at least for some of them, is not as much a special expensive
treatment, exhausting training and hard competitions, but to be
let free to be what they are (which may have zero cost for
society); but it may be beyond the mental ability of the System,
to understand this need of freedom and tolerate geniuses for what
they are. The System "needs" to be the official creator of every
good thing that happens; and to be respected as such, it needs to
first destroy any positive thing that previously existed in
nature, and for which the System cannot be granted the merit. So
it will divert the natural aspiration of geniuses into a
fabricated ambition, requiring a hard artificial work, to conquer
the right to be accepted into a higher meaningless social class
whose role will replace the one of natural intelligence. This
will require a harder artificial work for the ambition to
conquer the right to enter the next grade, and so on. But this
endless strive can turn out to be destructive of the very
creativity and knowledge that it pretends to create.
Finally, while the System officially praises the geniuses it
trains as an elite (and may have positive effects on some of
them), some of these geniuses not at ease with the System, happen
to suffer this treatment as a sort of mental slavery,
nonsense that destroys their time, life and creativity. It is a
known fact that intellectual creativity erodes with age. Any
harm or obstacle that limits the time and opportunity for young
geniuses to find fulfillment and develop knowledge, is a terrible
This situation has been recalled here:
human brain has it's best time
in the early to mid twenties. Why do we waste these best years?"
A fabric of crackpots
As we said, the most disgusting thing for (at least some) clever
people, is intellectual mediocrity.
This is both true for young geniuses as for tenured scientists.
These are two artificially separated sides of a population that
would otherwise have naturally been one brotherhood, but whose
chances to connect to each other are severely limited by this wall
of administrative rule of intellectual mediocrity that is the
school and undergraduate teaching system, separating both sides,
and which repels each member of a side away from the other
Why are there no more serious attempts at communication and
direct unions between networks or organizations supporting
gifted people in desperate need of opportunities to fulfill
their curiosity and develop their skills, and scientists that
feel desperate at the statistics of the decreasing popularity of
scientific studies in official institutions ? Or is there ? Of
course some efforts are made at popularizing science in the media,
in conferences, expositions, or science museums. But this is
usually not done in a serious manner: this is not the full depth
of science that is usually shared in these ways, but rather some
oversimplified accounts or anecdotal aspects of science. The
separation between scientists and those who wish to learn
science, may seem to be reduced through such popularization
works, but no real decent bridge seems to be currently in place.
Core theories that could be really more interesting, such as the
main foundations of mathematics (set theory, model theory), linear
or abstract algebra, tensors, electromagnetism,
non-euclidean geometries, topology, classical mechanics,
gravitation, special and general relativity, quantum physics, are
hardly ever fully shared in such environments. (I am personally
interested to contribute in communicating these subjects to gifted
people who wish to learn them outside formal academic
contexts, so please contact me if you know about
any math&physics education network, either local or
online, for skilled free students at undergraduate level).
Such an absence explains both the lack of popularity of
scientific studies that many scientists officially deplore, and
the proliferation of cranks that worsen the separation between
scientists and the public. How can students be expected to seek
scientific studies, if the academic system welcomes them there
with the spines of a hard, tedious and boring work ? How can young
geniuses not be tempted to mistake the scientific community with
the mediocre appearance of it given by the academic system, which
somehow really looks like crackpot ? This deprives them of the
means to trust the intelligence of scientists, and thus leads them
to believe that their own thought, just because it goes a little
higher than the lessons they are attending, would be higher than
mainstream science too. This is what is leading some of the young
geniuses, who otherwise may have become good scientists, to become
paranoid cranks instead.
A change is needed
The opposition of political forces is so naturally flawed between
Thus, while they are usually a free and reliable reference of
knowledge inside their precise subject of research, geniuses and
scientists may remain a sort of sheep in the hands of
businesses and administration (and sometimes thoughtless
intellectual fashions among their peers, as professional recognition
is dictated by peer-review processes), as for the conception and
orientation of the work they are employed for.
- The ITP, introverted independent thinkers interested in things
and ideas rather than in other people, who prefer to flee
- The EJ (extroverted organizers) who like to rule the lives of
other people and find it right to do so
This is where the natural need of scientists to take refuge in the
ivory tower of their specialized knowledge (while many
pseudo-scientists are much more eager to share their crackpot ideas
to the public) to avoid the hassles of mental nonsense and political
conflicts that reign in the rest of the world, reaches
its weaknesses. This lack of political consciousness among
those who may have been best able to understand society's troubles
and invent possible solutions, is both damaging to many
of their own possible intellectual peers, and to society as a
Since long, hardly any justification remained for such a lack of
liberty to the whole students population, especially the top
fraction of them. But now the obsolescence of the system is even
clearer with the development of the Internet, which gives everyone
virtually all the best knowledge of the world at home for free. But
this new field of opportunities still has to be further developed.
Scientists already started to revolt against publishers of
scientific journals (whose main remaining role in the Internet
age is to take as a direct profit most of the public funding of
scientific libraries, with no real service in return), by developing
alternative online peer-reviewed journals with free
online access for all.
It may be time to make a similar revolution with education, to
provide free or cheaper online higher education. Indeed, the methods
of sharing knowledge are currently quite wasteful with this way of
having to repeat the same lessons at precise schedules each year,
while it is the same performance that thousands of professors are
supposed to repeat worldwide from a university to another, with
hardly any innovation effort actually done: this is far from any
optimized use of the creative scientific abilities of
professors, while a simple video broadcast of the best lesson of the
world on each subject (just to be translated in each different
language, and eventually to adapt once for all to a list of
different skills and profiles of students), would sometimes do
better and cheaper. Thus we need to consider
- How to define any formal status and provide funding for the
work of sharing knowledge in a free and open environment
- Does there need any form of personalized or collective
guidance to the students, and which one(s)
- How to cross the legal and administrative obstacles concerning
diplomas, this symbol giving an "official value" (on the
job market) for the student's acquired skills.
Other mismanagement of intellectual resources
Some research subjects in mathematics that initially developed with
no purpose of practical applications, finally produced unexpected
important ones (such as number theory that led to cryptography).
However this is not a general case; and, while most fields of
mathematics (as listed by the Mathematics Subject Classification)
seem connected with possibilities of applications, some active
research subjects (as I could see) can't be reasonably expected to
be useful to mankind in the near future.
This uselessness is a general phenomenon that can take different
forms. What was the usefulness of sending men on the Moon ? Some
technical usefulness of the Apollo program exists
(technological development, some scientific research...), but this
alone would not have justified its huge cost (such new technologies
could have been developed at a lower cost). The main "usefulness"
was to make people dream (and to bring a bright reputation to the US
worldwide). Hopes of clearer kinds of usefulness such as making it
profitable to colonize the Moon in the short term, have been
What is the usefulness of astronomy, except to warn us whether an
asteroid threatens to hit the Earth and kill many of us ? To bring a
knowledge of our place in the cosmos, to feed the imagination of an
educated public curious enough to look after it. The advantage of
astronomy is that it can be popularized in a way that preserves much
of its wonder (and it is cheaper than the Apollo program). In terms
of strict usefulness, just enough space research to send the useful
satellites to observe, localize and communicate everything on Earth
would have sufficed.
What is the usefulness of particle physics ? Progress in fundamental
physics in the first half the 20th century has been tremendously
useful. This usefulness was expectable because the physics
underlying ordinary matter (to specify exactly what can be done with
matter for practical purposes by affordable means) had not been
fully understood before. However, this time has passed, as the
laws of physics for ordinary matter are rather fully understood;
what is not understood yet of fundamental physics and that is being
researched in particle accelerators, clearly won't be
technologically useful in a foreseeable future (as it can only bring
information about the mess of particles produced in particle
collisions from over-expensive, energetically wasteful particle
accelerators; about the Big Bang and cosmology; and some
pointless details on how cosmic rays can damage spacecrafts and the
health of astronauts). Now, further discoveries in particle physics
can only be useful to feed the dreams of... the small minority of
particle physics that can understand such discoveries (as this field
can't be popularized in a similarly meaningful way as astronomy).
Some mathematical research subjects are just as useless, only good
to feed the dreams of a few specialists, where the news of any
discovery can eventually not be popularized at all.
The mismanagement of intellectual resources is particularly striking
in the case of string theory, to which a huge lot of work was
dedicated with hardly any effective result (testable predictions),
which led some to dismiss this theory as not
even wrong (though interesting from a purely abstract
This does not exactly make it a pseudo-science like other
pseudo-sciences. Unfortunately the debate has been polluted with
some cranky claims of opponents to string theory (especially Lee
Smolin), but I guess that a sort of agreement between most
physicists would remain on the following points: that string
theory is a somehow self-consistent mathematical theory (though this
may not be so clear), that it has a chance to fit the real world but
we cannot know. It is merely speculative with no practical
prediction as it lets a much too wide range of possibilities that
can't even be reasonably computed to compare them with the standard
model, so that it largely fails in
practice (under the limitations of our human deductive
abilities...) to reach the status it initially promised, that
is of a scientific theory for physics.
On the other hand, other possibly more useful research subjects
for scientists are neglected, such as
- cleaning up and synthesizing existing knowledge,
to provide students an easier access to a broader and more
meaningful panorama of it, and help them become better
scientists or engineers;
- redesigning their own jobs (modes of funding and employment),
as mentioned above;
- More generally, analyzing and designing solutions to social,
economic and political problems: daily troubles, injustices and
destructions of the environment (in ways we shall explain in
Some references of criticism of the institutions
and procedures of science in the West have long been shaped by
military and commercial imperatives. The scientific
establishment has accepted these shaping constraints,
reluctantly or enthusiastically, but they have had little choice
in the matter."
and in the New Scientist article Time
democratize science, linked from there:
words of Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz:
Science and Democracy parts
"If science is defined by its
ability to forecast the future, the failure of much of the
economics profession to see the crisis coming should be a cause
of great concern."I am not sure economics even qualifies as a
science any more. It is as though physicists spent hours pushing
an elephant up the stairs of their department and then expressed
surprise at what happened when they heaved it off the roof.
As a source of world-changing
knowledge, the social sciences are as nothing when compared with
the natural sciences.
The pharmaceutical sector, for
example, has spent billions on copycat drugs and treatments for
depression and anxiety that have few clear benefits.
There is no good reason I can
see why science funding could not be made subject to democratic
decision-making. Yes, it will hand power to non-experts, but so
does the present system: non-experts in the state and private
sector often have a decisive say in what scientists study.
List of false or low quality sciences
Let us now review a number of disciplines (communities of people
with some sort of peer recognition) claiming to study a field of
knowledge (focusing on matters of truth - unlike arts which are
explicitly more a matter of taste than of truth), and assess their
scientific value according to the previously explained criteria.
It had its time of glory in the past. In ancient Greece, philosophy
was not yet distinguished from the science of that time, thus we
might say both were comparable in quality. Then they faced many
centuries of near-absence during the dark ages of Christian
domination, before resurrecting together and having their glory
period in the time of Enlightenment.
Enlightenment philosophy signed its good new insights of truth, by
some valuable practical accomplishments (usefulness for mankind,
that can be compared with the technical usefulness of science):
However, the situation is now very different, as science made a
tremendous lot of progress since that time, leaving philosophy far
behind. Philosophy didn't make any comparable progress of
methods or knowledge, and thus became a sterile discipline.
- An initial impulse to the development of science
- Democracy, constitutions, separation of powers
- Declaration of human rights, the right of expression (outside
- Criticism of religion, a limitation of the
Church's domination, the separation of church and state
- Development of education and university
- More lately: the end of slavery, a criticism of the political
& religious colonialism and of the arrogance towards
Some attempts of reform to remodel philosophy after science
have been made, such as the development of analytic philosophy
by Bertrand Russel who also contributed to the new foundations of
mathematics (set theory). It may be acknowledged that analytic
philosophy is a bit less irrational than continental philosophy.
But, apart from a few interesting clues such as his celestial teapot
and other remarks on religion, much of the length of Russel's
philosophy (such as his theory of the mind) remained of poor value
(long developments on pointless details that cannot contribute to
the progress of knowledge in any effective way).
For example, after the good fruits of democracy produced by the
Enlightenment philosophy, what further political revolution did
philosophy bring to mankind ? Well, it brought the Marxist
Despite its claims, Marxism is not rational. Most philosophers did
not notice the problem, and thus welcomed Marxism in their field.
Only Karl Popper developed famous writings showing the
discrepancy between Marxism and science, by observing the difference
between the Marxist and the scientific way of testing a theory
against experience (falsifiability), for example the way Einstein's
general relativity made precise predictions to be tested.
Despite this, the community of so-called "intellectuals" (of
humanities, not scientists) kept holding Marxism as a
rational theory and valid philosophy. Of course if you measure
a philosophy by its convincing power to the masses, then, Marxism is
among the best, just in the same way religions previously were. In
fact Marxism is itself a modern religion exploiting the newly
fashionable claim of scientificity. But the success of a
convincing power to the people (even to be taken as "scientific" by
an unscientific class of self-proclaimed "intellectuals") hardly has
anything to do with truth and rationality.
Now you don't need anymore to study and examine it in much details
to find evidence for its lack of rationality: just look at its
fruits (the Soviet Union). The combination of its convincing power
with its utter falsity, just means it is at the antipodes of reason:
it is powerfully misleading.
We shall discuss this more closely in Part IV.
The irrational character of philosophy, can be inferred from its
inability to naturally converge to a consensus on given questions:
many philosophers keep presenting opposite views on fixed issues,
that remain unresolved for a very long time.
criticism of philosophy
things are hard to understand, people who suspect they're
nonsense generally keep quiet. There's no way to prove a text is
meaningless. The closest you can get is to show that the
official judges of some class of texts can't distinguish them
And so instead of denouncing
philosophy, most people who suspected it was a waste of time
just studied other things. That alone is fairly damning
evidence, considering philosophy's claims. It's supposed to be
about the ultimate truths. Surely all smart people would be
interested in it, if it delivered on that promise.
Because philosophy's flaws
turned away the sort of people who might have corrected them,
they tended to be self-perpetuating. "
(and many other arguments worth reading too)
Richard Feynman (physics Nobel laureate) made harsh criticisms of
discussion as to what "essential object" meant, the professor
leading the seminar said (...) "Mr. Feynman, would you say an electron is an 'essential
object'?"(...). So I began by asking, "Is a brick an essential
(forgetting that, in fact, ornithology has been useful to birds in
Then the answers came out. One
man stood up and said, "A brick as an individual, specific
brick. That is what Whitehead means by an essential object."
Another man said, "No, it isn't
the individual brick that is an essential object; it's the
general character that all bricks have in common - their
'brickiness' - that is the essential object."
Another guy got up and said,
"No, it's not in the bricks themselves. 'Essential object' means
the idea in the mind that you get when you think of bricks."
Another guy got up, and another,
and I tell you I have never heard such ingenious different ways
of looking at a brick before. And, just like it should in all
stories about philosophers, it ended up in complete chaos."
"philosophy of science is about as useful to scientists as
ornithology is to birds"
Feynman's text on science:
People say to me, “Are you
looking for the ultimate laws of physics?” No, I’m not… If it
turns out there is a simple ultimate law which explains
everything, so be it — that would be very nice to discover. If
it turns out it’s like an onion with millions of layers… then
that’s the way it is. But either way there’s Nature and she’s
going to come out the way She is. So therefore when we go to
investigate we shouldn’t predecide what it is we’re looking
for only to find out more about it. Now you ask: “Why do you
try to find out more about it?” If you began your
investigation to get an answer to some deep philosophical
question, you may be wrong. It may be that you can’t get an
answer to that particular question just by finding out more
about the character of Nature. But that’s not my interest in
science; my interest in science is to simply find out about
the world and the more I find out the better it is, I like to
(The Pleasure of Finding Things Out p. 23)
is, is not what the philosophers have said it is, and certainly
not what the teacher editions say it is. What it is, is a
problem which I set for myself after I said I would give this
After some time, I was reminded
of a little poem:
centipede was happy quite, until a toad in fun
All my life, I have been doing
science and known what it was, but what I have come to tell
you--which foot comes after which--I am unable to do, and
furthermore, I am worried by the analogy in the
poem that when I go home I will
no longer be able to do any research."
Said, "Pray, which leg comes
This raised his doubts to such
He fell distracted in the
Not knowing how to run.
a great deal about what is absolutely necessary for science, and
it is always, so far as one can see, rather naive and probably
wrong. . .
My son is taking a course in
philosophy, and last night we were looking at something by
Spinoza--and there was the most childish reasoning! There were
all these Attributes and Substances, all this meaningless
chewing around, and we started to laugh. Now, how could we do
that? Here's this great Dutch philosopher, and we're laughing at
him. It's because there was no excuse for it! In that same
period there was Newton, there was Harvey studying the
circulation of the blood, there were people with methods of
analysis by which progress was being made! You can take every
one of Spinoza's propositions and take the contrary propositions
and look at the world--and you can't tell which is right. Sure,
people were awed because he had the courage to take on these
great questions, but it doesn't do any good to have the courage
if you can't get anywhere with the question.
It isn't the philosophy that gets me, it's the pomposity. If
they'd just laugh at themselves! If they'd just say, "I think
it's like this, but Von Leipzig thought it was like that, and he
had a good shot at it too." If they'd explain that this is their
best guess.... But so few of them do; instead, they seize on the
possibility that there may not be any ultimate fundamental
particle and say that you should stop work and ponder with great
profundity. "You haven't thought deeply enough; first let me
define the world for you." Well, I'm going to investigate it
without defining it! "
Another Physics Nobel laureate, Steven
Weinberg, wrote (Chapter "Against Philosophy" of his book
"Dreams of a final theory"):
"The insights of philosophers have occasionally benefited
physicists, but generally in a negative fashion—by protecting
them from the preconceptions of other philosophers.(...) without
some guidance from our preconceptions one could do nothing at
all. It is just that philosophical principles have not generally
provided us with the right preconceptions.
Physicists do of course carry around with them a working
philosophy. For most of us, it is a rough-and-ready realism, a
belief in the objective reality of the ingredients of our
scientific theories. But this has been learned through the
experience of scientific research and rarely from the teachings
This is not to deny all value to philosophy(...). But we should
not expect [the philosophy of science] to provide today's
scientists with any useful guidance about how to go about their
work or about what they are likely to find.
After a few years' infatuation with philosophy as an undergraduate
I became disenchanted. The insights of the philosophers I studied
seemed murky and inconsequential compared with the dazzling
successes of physics and mathematics. From time to time since then
I have tried to read current work on the philosophy of science.
Some of it I found to be written in a jargon so impenetrable that
I can only think that it aimed at impressing those who confound
obscurity with profundity. (...) But only rarely did it seem to me
to have anything to do with the work of science as I knew it.
I am not alone in this; I know of no one who has participated
actively in the advance of physics in the postwar period whose
research has been significantly helped by the work of
philosophers. I raised in the previous chapter the problem of what
Wigner calls the "unreasonable effectiveness" of mathematics; here
I want to take up another equally puzzling phenomenon, the
unreasonable ineffectiveness of philosophy.
Even where philosophical doctrines have in the past been useful to
scientists, they have generally lingered on too long, becoming of
more harm than ever they were of use.(...)
Mechanism had also been propagated beyond the boundaries of
science and survived there to give later trouble to scientists. In
the nineteenth century the heroic tradition of mechanism was
incorporated, unhappily, into the dialectical materialism of Marx
and Engels and their followers (...) and for a while dialectical
materialism stood in the way of the acceptance of general
relativity in the Soviet Union
(...) We are not likely to know the right questions until we are
close to knowing the answers.(...)
The quark theory was only one step in a continuing process of
reformulation of physical theory in terms that are more and more
fundamental and at the same time farther and farther from everyday
introductory books on philosophy take the tack that “philosophy
is not so much a set of answers as a way of asking questions:
the important thing about philosophy is not specific answers,
but rather the philosophical way of thinking”
Yeah – that is because the
answers that philosophers have come up with over the centuries
have been almost uniformly bad!
Ethics is too important to be
left to the philosophers.
children should also be taught
not to think “philosophically,” in the manner of current and
recent academic and professional philosophers. On the contrary,
they should be explicitly told that, for at least the last two
centuries, the philosophical enterprise as carried out by
professional philosophers has been an obvious failure and that
the vast increase in our knowledge of reality during the last
several centuries has been due not to philosophy but to natural
In the same site: Is
Physicists dissing philosophy
"Science, philosophy, and
religion all make claims to have a broad, integrated view of
reality. But, the views of reality they arrive at differ
It would be quite surprising if
three such radically different approaches to confronting reality
were to give compatible pictures of reality.
Of course, they do not.
...in some ways, both the
creationists and the postmodernists deserve credit for seeing
something that more sensible, moderate folks try to evade: in
the long-term, science, philosophy, and religion cannot co-exist
acknowledges and sums up the importance and relevance of top
scientists'harsch criticism of philosophy, so as to take
lessons how to consequently reform the academic practice
of philosophy.But other philosophers prefer to reject such criticism
and keep justifying their flaws anyway.
More debates if you wish :
you a better scientist
discussion which then diverts from the subject
Other philosophers try to justify philosophy's flaws through empty
How pitiful it is to observe how philosophers
even able to give a decent answer to a simple question.
They try to justify their inability of finding decent answers
by claims such as : the value of philosophy would be to focus
on asking the right questions (or eliminating the wrong questions)
and eliminating some wrong answers (a sort of intellectual garbage
collecting). But these are just blind unjustified beliefs,
as the real effect of their work is just the opposite: to
multiply and preciously accumulate wrong questions and wrong
answers (intellectual garbage collectioning).
This reminds me the joke
"How many Microsoft engineers
does it take to screw in a light bulb? None. They just define
darkness as an industry standard." and other "It's not a bug, it's a feature".
especially, who appreciates the “unreasonable effectiveness of
mathematics” and the “unreasonable ineffectiveness of
philosophy" to scientific endeavors must recognize the dangers
of letting "philosophy of math" ride roughshod over "foundations
of math" and as a last line of defense, of letting "philosophy
and foundations of math" ride roughshod over proper pure and
Just look at the talk page for
"philosophy of math"! What a mess. Note that some of these
people actually believe the destiny of science can be mastered
thru verbose semantics, concepts, schema, arguments, etc. The
last time I looked, the language of science was still written in
mathematics. Fortunately, bullshit had not yet taken over in the
Specialists in foundations
and/or philosophy of math often over-estimate the importance of
their work to those in other specialties."
Consider for example how philosophers of maths play the role of
garbage collectioners of the failed/crackpot mathematical
inspirations such as "Intuitionism" (= possibly interesting
hints not properly clarified) or meaningless conceptual divisions
that can be made obsolete by mathematical work (see about the
completeness theorem in Part III) that they raise as highly
philosophical just because it failed to be mathematically meaningful
and thus does not interest any reasonable mathematician.
In reply to the criticism that philosophy lost its usefulness
since the Enlightenment time, philosophers often react by
glorifying themselves of their uselessness, by the straw man
argument that, well, optimized financial productivity is not the
right ultimate value, and thus should not be the exclusive purpose
of public school curricula.
But, while I agree that numerical measure of the short-term
financial profit should not be the final and exclusive criteria of
value for an intellectual discipline, the trouble is that
philosophers seem to have no other evidently meaningful
alternative criteria of value either, except the very negation of
the usefulness criteria (together with their intimate but
unjustified conviction). Namely, they seem to be raising
wastefulness (uselessness) as their ultimate value, as if the very
fact something brings no fruit, could serve as an evidence that it
must surely be very spiritual. This reminds me the Shadoks'
pump, therefore I am
It is better to pump even if nothing happens, than risk that
something is going worse by not pumping.
their rocket was not highly
developed, but they had calculated that it still had 1 chance
over 1 million to work. And they hurried to fail the 999
999 first tests to ensure that the millionth works.
With wastefulness as their ultimate value, their work
turns out to be universally wasteful, for whatever purpose
including the development of the mind and critical thinking itself.
The belief they must be good for the spirit or whatever
undefinable ideal just based on the observation of their
worthlessness for financial profit, is but a superstition among
others. They may of course reject this criticism as straw man too,
as this description is not exactly their claim, But it does not
matter what they exactly claim: this is what they are doing in
How to explain the failure of philosophy ? Well, apart from the
crankiness of its members, an important cause is its
traditional obsession for essentialism (focusing on the
ultimate nature of everything - well, by the way, this is precisely
a usual character of cranks), to be contrasted with science's
non-essentialism that we described. Science has its own care for
essences when needed; it is just not an obsession. Philosophy just
failed to follow this model.
We might also describe the difference between science and philosophy
in this way:
Science is the practice of
rationality, while philosophy has theories
of rationality. And these theories are usually disconnected from
this practice, because, in fact, there is no better way to
understand rationality, that by practicing it.
But... is this really awful if philosophy is dominated by cranks ?
Well, not necessarily. After all, in order for cranks to stop
bothering scientists, they need to go somewhere else and find
another public. So, philosophy can be considered useful for its
social role of a huge intellectual bin where cranks can gather,
while science on its own side can stay clean.
OK, philosophy is so diverse that it is also possible to find there
a minority of decent approaches: example.
Remarks on logical positivism and falsificationism
As philosophers can easily notice, there is a flaw in the way
Weinberg takes the example of logical positivism and its
unfortunate consequences for criticizing philosophy. Indeed, logical
positivism was rather made by scientists themselves, precisely as a
movement against philosophy, and was popular among scientists but
not among philosophers, who quickly rejected it. Thus, philosophers
cannot be responsible for these troubles.
Let's explain this issue in more details.
Once understood well, the statement of the principles of science we
made at the start of this Part II, including the "logical
positivism" principle, is not affected by Weinberg's criticism of
logical positivism: the troubles only come from a caricatural
form of logical positivism not balanced by the other
principles we stated (conceptual reconstruction of reality).
The difference made by philosophers between verificationism (as
stated by logical positivists) and Popper's falsificationism (that
was later widely taken as a reference of scientificity) has to be
Once analyzed well, these are more or less two ways of
popularizing the same logical concept. Well, the details of the
formulation of logical positivism can have been imperfect and
deserve a few corrections. But the main difference is not about
what they really mean, which is the same, but a difference of "how
they feel", how they might be misinterpreted by irrational
To the eyes of a large public as well as many philosophers, Marxism
and Psychoanalysis made an impression of being "verified", thus
scientific. But this impression of "verification" was a mere
illusion, obtained by emptying of meaning the concept of
"verification". Then, Karl Popper discovered that another phrasing,
"falsificationism", was better suited and efficient to explain how
Marxism and Psychoanalysis are false sciences, as they do not stand
to the practice of verification used in real science. This was okay,
but then he went to wrong conclusions by mistaking this
difference of usefulness (for irrational people to more easily
notice the lack of scientificity of some ideologies) for a deep
conceptual difference. The result is that he replaced the
initial misinterpretation of the nature of science, by another
misinterpretation, that does not carry the same risks of misuse but
can carry some too.
As Weinberg said, the main possible value of philosophy is to refute
some errors of other philosophers. So, Popper was good
for warning against Psychoanalysis and Marxism as
pseudo-sciences, while David Stove was
warning against the irrationality of Popper and other
science philosophers (Feyerabend, Kuhn...).
About clarifying scientific concepts
An example of a "philosophical subject" is about noticing that
modern theories such as relativity and quantum physics, failed to go
through a work of cleaning up their fundamental concepts
and vocabulary to a comparable extent as classical physics had
succeeded before. So they are still often presented inside
the language, intuition and even mathematical parameters of
classical physics. This conflict between the modern intended
theories and the classical intuitions and language still used to
expressed them, brings these theories an unfortunate reputation
of being counter-intuitive.
That's right, but: what's the use of making a philosophy about it ?
This is not a genuine subject for philosophy. This is just a task
for science professors to clean up existing knowledge. And this is
an administrative problem to pay attention to this question, and
provide incentives to:
- publish better courses cleaning up each possible subject, once for
all in the world (or several times, of course, but each
time caring to do better again than previously);
- For each subject where such a work was already done by
someone in the world, take the new view and reform teaching after
Unfortunately, while such works exist (as I'm caring myself to do
some), the education system is so conservative that the necessary
changes are not done (because professors are usually so busy
repeating over and over again the same old teachings in boring old
ways, and are so "the best in their fields", that they have no time
to seriously care whether a better way might already have been
produced by somebody else).
But hopefully, in a future time when the cleaning up will have been
done, what will remain of the philosophy whose thesis was to claim
that the cleaning up is not done yet ? Rather do the cleaning up,
than philosophize on its lack.
Postmodernism and "science studies"
A community of ideological flaws can be seen between Marxism,
which dismisses its opposing theories (economic liberalism) as a
mere matter of social forces rather than of truth (so as to use ad
hominem as an excuse to not bother arguing rationally), and the
postmodernist "science studies".
Everyone should know about the Sokal affair, an episode of the Science Wars:
Alan Sokal submitted the article “Transgressing the Boundaries:
Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity”
proposing that quantum gravity is a linguistic and social construct and that quantum physics supports postmodernist criticisms
of scientific objectivity. Social Text
published the article in the Spring/Summer “Science Wars” issue
in May 1996. Later, in the May 1996 issue of Lingua Franca, in the article “A Physicist
Experiments With Cultural Studies”, Prof. Sokal exposed his
parody-article, “Transgressing the Boundaries” as an experiment
testing the intellectual rigor of an academic journal that would
“publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if (a) it
sounded good and (b) it flattered the editors’ ideological
Sokal's hoax should not be overestimated, as it was only
directed to a precise movement (postmodernism) that should not be
confused with the whole of philosophy or social sciences: in this interview, Alan
should make clear that I don’t think my parody article settles
anything. It doesn’t by itself prove much – that one
journal was sloppy. So it wasn’t the parody itself that proved
it, it was the things that I and other people wrote afterward
which I believe showed the sloppiness of the philosophy that a
lot of postmodernist literary theory types were writing. But
again, I wasn’t the first person to make those criticisms. It
was only after the fact that I went back into the literature and
found philosophers had made many of these criticisms long before
me. All I did in a certain sense was to find a better public
relations method than they did."
But he also expresses his skepticism on the possibility for
philosophy of science to fulfill its goal of understanding the
I guess you’re right that I’m skeptical that there can ever be a
complete over-arching theory simply because science is about
rationality; rationality is always adaptation to unforeseen
circumstances – how can you possibly codify that? But that
doesn’t mean philosophy of science is useless, because all of
these attempts that have failed as final codifications of
scientific method nevertheless contributed something. "
social sciences have not learned, in their own disciplines, much
that is operationally indisputable, readily reproducible, and
internationally agreed to; so they cannot easily conceive such a
thing to be possible in any field. Knowing in their own
discipline that ideology governs "knowledge" as well as theory,
they presume that must be so in all fields."
Also, the end of the above quoted Weinberg's chapter "against
philosophy" tells about the relations between science and
"science studies" by sociologists.
Some interesting observations are without problem:
Sharon Traweek has spent years with elementary particle
experimentalists at both the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center
and the KEK Laboratory in Japan and has described what she had
seen from the perspective of an anthropologist. This kind of big
science is a natural topic for anthropologists and sociologists,
because scientists belong to an anarchic tradition that prizes
individual initiative, and yet they find in today's experiments
that they have to work together in teams of hundreds. As a
theorist I have not worked in such a team, but many of her
observations seem to me to have the ring of truth, as for
instance: The physicists see themselves as an elite whose
membership is determined solely by scientific merit. The
assumption is that everyone has a fair start. This is
underscored by the rigorously informal dress code, the
similarity of their offices, and the "first naming" practices in
the community. Competitive individualism is considered both just
and effective: the hierarchy is seen as a meritocracy which
produces fine physics. American physicists, however, emphasize
that science is not democratic: decisions about scientific
purposes should not be made by majority rule within the
community, nor should there be equal access to a lab's
resources. On both these issues, most Japanese physicists assume
But other aspects present a strong opposition:
is simply a logical fallacy to go from the observation that
science is a social process to the conclusion that the final
product, our scientific theories, is what it is because of the
social and historical forces acting in this process. A party of
mountain climbers may argue over the best path to the peak, and
these arguments may be conditioned by the history and social
structure of the expedition, but in the end either they find a
good path to the peak or they do not, and when they get there
they know it. (No one would give a book about mountain climbing
the title Constructing Everest.) I cannot prove that science is
like this, but everything in my experience as a scientist
convinces me that it is. The "negotiations" over changes in
scientific theory go on and on, with scientists changing their
minds again and again in response to calculations and
experiments, until finally one view or another bears an
unmistakable mark of objective success. It certainly feels to me
that we are discovering something real in physics, something
that is what it is without any regard to the social or
historical conditions that allowed us to discover it.
Where then does
this radical attack on the objectivity of scientific knowledge
come from? One source I think is the old bugbear of positivism,
this time applied to the study of science itself. If one refuses
to talk about anything that is not directly observed, then quantum
field theories or principles of symmetry or more generally laws of
nature cannot be taken seriously. What philosophers and
sociologists and anthropologists can study is the actual behavior
of real scientists, and this behavior never follows any simple
description in terms of rules of inference. But scientists have
the direct experience of scientific theories as desired yet
elusive goals, and they become convinced of the reality of these
be another motivation for the attack on the realism and
objectivity of science, one that is less high-minded. Imagine if
you will an anthropologist who studies the cargo cult on a
Pacific island. The islanders believe that they can bring back
the cargo aircraft that made them prosperous during World War II
by building wooden structures that imitate radar and radio
antennas. It is only human nature that this anthropologist and
other sociologists and anthropologists in similar circumstances
would feel a frisson of superiority, because they know as their
subjects do not that there is no objective reality to these
beliefs—no cargo-laden C-47 will ever be attracted by the wooden
radars. Would it be surprising if, when anthropologists and
sociologists turned their attention to studying the work of
scientists, they tried to recapture that delicious sense of
superiority by denying the objective reality of the scientists'
delicious self-criticism article by Bruno Latour (worth full
reading - a
longer version is there), questioning the field of social
studies he created himself, considering how it turned out to lead to
conspirationism, denialism, and endangering our planet by the way it
is used by political lobbies for denying scientific evidence on
Relativism is only one aspect
of a wider, radical, attack on science itself. (...) These
radical critics of science seem to be having little or no effect
on the scientists themselves. I do not know of any working
scientist who takes them seriously."
have spent sometimes in the past trying to show the "lack of
scientific certainty" inherent in the construction of facts. I
too made it a "primary issue." But I did not exactly aim at
fooling the public by obscuring the certainty of a closed
argument–or did I? After all, I have been accused of just that
sin. Still, I'd like to believe that, on the contrary, I
intended to emancipate the public from a prematurely naturalized
objectified fact. Was I foolishly mistaken? Have things changed
In which case the danger would
no longer be coming from an excessive confidence in ideological
arguments posturing as matters of fact–as we have learned to
combat so efficiently in the past–but from an excessive distrust
of good matters of fact disguised as bad ideological biases!
While we spent years trying to detect the real prejudices hidden
behind the appearance of objective statements, do we have now to
reveal the real objective and incontrovertible facts hidden
behind the illusion of prejudices?
Economical and political sciences emerged out of philosophy,
and made some way towards scientificity by taking some
inspiration from mathematics and other applied sciences. They are
not as flawed as philosophy, but still keep some of its flaws. For
example, they keep fuzzy logic, can't work accurately enough to
converge to the truth, as can be seen by their long-standing
diversities of views on each subject. This is partly understandable
as a difficulty, as its object depends on fuzzy human elements and
irreducible complexities, so that the reductionist approaches of
mathematics and physics cannot apply so well. However this is not a
sufficient justification, since another scientific field (biology
and the theory of evolution) could do a better job in spite of
Among people aware of the presence of large flaws in economical
sciences, some analyze them as due to giving too much importance
to mathematics (and mathematical modeling). However,
people coming from exact sciences (pure or applied
mathematics, physics) and having a look at the mathematical
modelling used in economics, would observe that the problem
with economics is not about doing too much mathematics, but about
Indeed, mathematics does not just consist in writing and
solving equations. Instead, true mathematics is a way of thinking.
It is the skill of thinking logically and accurately, in an
elaborate way in coherence with the context, so as to ensure the
reliability of the approximations made. Mathematical concepts, and
other concepts developed by a mathematical way of thinking, can be
expressed as well in formulas or in ordinary language, depending on
subjects or convenience; while illogical nonsense can be written in
the language of formulas just the same.
The art of finding out good approximations and relevant
modelizations, is omnipresent in physics and other sciences; and the
art of modelization itself, in the sense of developing concepts,
diversifying and selecting relevant viewpoints on a given
subject, is present in pure mathematics too.
Another scientific tool often used in hard sciences which did not
enter the culture of economists, is computer simulations.
Example of an article presenting the current flaws of economics:
Financial Crisis and the Systemic Failure of Academic Economics
(More references would be welcome; already the Wikipedia article on
presents some criticism too).
Other important examples of the domination of nonsense in academic
economics, have been the heavy presence of Marxism as well as
Keynesianism, despite their lack of logical coherence. The disasters
from Marxism are well-known. But Keynesianism also has a share
of responsibility in nonsense politics too, by the misunderstanding
it induced about the long "crisis" from 1973 to now (reduced growth
and worsening unemployment without inflation), leading to a
repetition of the fiscal and monetary measures (increased spendings)
that worked to end the "overproduction" crisis of the 1930's (which
can be analyzed as a monetary crisis) but cannot work now that the
problem is different, and even worsens the situation : harming
growth and running into more disasters (states going bankrupt) which
can't be solved anymore.
How desperating it can have been for example in France during the
1980's, for someone who thinks logically, to hear on TV as
well as by high school economics teachers, as if it
was undeniably the only rational view, the perpetual repetition
of the same nonsense, that overspending (by states as well as
by people) would be the best solution to every problem and for
social justice, while austerity would be the worst evil of the world
that only big bad wolves (capitalists) might support for obscure
As with philosophy, the obligations to swallow tons of absurd
theories for anyone who would consider officially studying
economics, also contributed to turn away from the subject most
skilled thinkers that could have corrected it. Sure, the rationality
level there is better than in philosophy, but most of the really
good thinkers rather go to hard sciences rather than economics.
Note also how usually unquestioned are the basic features
of the "infrastructures" in terms of which democracy, national
states, currencies, administrations and policies are defined.
The omnipresence of technologies and other remarkable efficiencies
of science to change many things in our daily life (in contrast
with the vanity of religion) as well as the presence of an
economical science full of mathematical tools, has given many people
the false impression that science somehow dominates the world,
despite its much smaller number of effective members (scientists)
In reality, science has never been in power. It cannot do what
nobody wants it to do. Scientists never received the mandate to
rethink and reorganize our political and economic systems so as to
more truly serve the general interest. Our core political
structures, as well as the root of decision
(some political class vaguely representing a rather
irrational population through rudimentary voting processes) hardly
has anything to do with the well-designed kind of sophistication
such as science would know to develop.
People always decided that scientists should exclusively work at the
service of this unquestioned "liberal" or "democratic" system, to
provide technologies to do what consumers individually like, and
what our institutions want them to do. These institutions
are rather a conventional construction that emerged long ago
and were preserved by inertia or slowly evolved for easy
corrections and adaptation for the purpose of growing and keeping
their power, in a world where most people have a passive mind. The
only choice scientists had, was between serving these institutions
or staying jobless and excluded from society.
Then, how can anyone hold science responsible for the flawed
decisions (individually useful but collectively irresponsible or
under control by specific interest groups) made by a system of
businesses and institutions that decides everything and hires
scientists, but that scientists cannot control in return (and most
of them don't even care as they are just satisfied to build
their ivory tower in a small corner there) ?
We shall review in Part IV some of the main economic concepts and
features (either already known or not yet) that need to be
understood, and new scientific tools to develop, for mankind to
better solve its current (old or new) and upcoming problems.
Medicine and Psychiatry
Medicine benefited greatly of the development of biological
sciences, but suffers the influence of the pharmaceutical industry's
financial interests, that distorts the research results towards the
highest possible social expenses it can take profit from; and there
are so many substances and questions requiring lots of specific
observations, that it is sometimes hard to check the truth on
every question - and with laws set up by industrial lobbies, none
else than this industry can "follow the procedures" to get the right
to sell its products (no matter how far from a fair game of truth
seeking are these procedures). While these aberrations are hardly a
secret in general, this lobby's strong influence on political
decisions makes it rather hopeless to try restoring a sane rational
environment for the development of medicine as a science in the
Also the relation with alternative medicine is not clear. Of course,
a lot of caution is necessary in general as many charlatans prosper,
but it is a pity to miss the tools to help select the possibly
useful practices and practitioners. The lack of research in
some methods may be due to the fact they do not sell any expensive
chemicals, and therefore are not in the industry's interests.
For example, the effects of acupuncture are
The situation is particularly disastrous in the field of psychiatry.
While some serious research in psychiatry can exist, and some
patients may indeed find help (healing some cases of depression or
other troubles) in psychiatric treatments, much of the psychiatric
practice fails to be scientific - and rather behaves as a
totalitarian system instead.
Indeed, psychiatry is not falsifiable, with its easy game of
interpreting any patient's disagreements with its diagnosis, as
pathological (or sometimes, as a mere scientologist propaganda).
This loophole (a general exaggerated belief in people's foolishness,
that opens the door to unfalsifiable fanciful ideas) is more or less
the same with psychiatry as with psychoanalysis.
Another example of an anti-scientific character of psychiatrists, is
how fast, in a few minutes, they can make definitive judgements
about whether their patient's views are justified or not. In the
rest of science, it may take hours, years or decades of work by many
scientists to debate a difficult question. Even many ordinary people
can be lucid enough to not judge other people's life without taking
some time to discuss and try to understand, or to acknowledge that
they don't know. Psychiatrists, on the other hand, and just like
religious fundamentalists, won't make any effort to try to
understand anything in their patients' lives beyond how it sounds to
them in a few minutes, but will give unlimited trust to their own
arbitrary, definitive judgement without any discussion (that is,
immediately dismissing as pathological any opinion different from
movements have shown, psychiatric institutional systems are
naturally oriented (as a necessary means for their own preservation
and promotion) to see fools everywhere and to heal none. Rather,
they destroy through poison, many lives that would otherwise not
have been so bad.
Some people would dismiss criticism by putting forward some cases of
people who really benefited from psychiatric treatment. Another
argument pushed on someone who had a bad experience suffering from a
absurd treatment from mad psychiatrists who make nonsense diagnosis
(mistaking, for example, any original thoughts away from
political correctness, as madness, and ordering devastating
pills for someone who was in fact sane, or anyway whose problem had
nothing to do with what is assumed), is to justify this madness by :
In fact, this "logic" as well as many other details of how many
psychiatrists think and behave, is but an expression of total
madness and absence of common sense.
- claiming that anyway the patient is free and responsible for
having freely accepted the devastating treatment ordered by the
psychiatrist (no matter the formal obligations of obedience
could be set up by a brainless administration; and how the
psychiatrist lied to the patient in the, refusing to
discuss the diagnosis with the patient's agreement, nor telling
the truth about the effects; assuming, disregarding any other
assessment of the patient's intelligence or rationality than the
psychiatrist's intimate conviction, that the patient would be
too mad to understand his problem, supposedly making it
necessary to tell any lies to make him accept the needed
treatment; thus decidedly letting the patient no chance of an
- that if a psychiatrist takes wrong decisions, the patient just
need to search for another one, because, as is assumed, there
must exist good ones - disregarding that this is but a way to
condemn the patient to have his health damaged again and again
by further mad psychiatrists, because there is no available
direct means to know which psychiatrist would be sane.
Indeed, it would be a matter of common sense to realize that the
claims of existence of people who benefited psychiatry, or existence
of psychiatrist that made good orderings, should never been
acceptable as a sufficient reason to "advise" depressed people to
visit one and to follow treatments, because:
What if happy patients with a positive experience, were taking the
responsibility for their testimony and advice for others to visit
psychiatrists, by providing financial insurance from their personal
funds, to give reparation to anyone that their advise would harm ?
Such an insurance economy would help restoring justice, as well as
comparing the harm with the benefits of psychiatry, and finding out
which weights more.
- It is too easy to claim to a weakened person (weakened by
depression), that he should follow any advice or treatment by
official "experts". The problem is: who will be responsible if
it turns out to be just nonsense with devastating effects ? Will
the patient be held fully responsible for the harm done to his
mental health ? According to the laws currently in force, nobody
but the patient is responsible for whatever damage made to his
mental health (which can be compared to a form of rape), no
matter how mad the psychiatrist's behavior (wrong diagnosis...)
turned out to be, while the psychiatrist will keep his job and
go on harming the lives of hundreds of other people without ever
receiving any feedback from the disaster he is creating. This is
infalsifiability, total disconnection from the truth.
- The (abstract and general) claim of existence of wise,
reliable psychiatrists, no matter how true, remains meaningless
as long as no nominative list is ever given of who they are.
Only a work of setting up such a list would give this claim a
sense. Because anyone who would claim that such exist, so as to
lead people in need to go and take treatment, must be held fully
responsible in case of any harm that would result from it. To
give people a chance to not have their life destroyed by the
claim of existence of good psychiatrists that would lead them to
visit mad ones, a nominative list is required. This should be
set up as a falsifiable claim, that is: if ever a psychiatrist
in the "list of good ones" turned out to be bad, first things
should be made easy for the victim to have his voice heard and
recognized with no requirement of judicial-like hassles that the
victim cannot financial and mentally afford to undertake;
second, once this event recognized, the whole list it is taken
from, and the claim of existence of wise psychiatrists, should
be officially discarded altogether.
I know that many politically correct people would discard such
requirements as foolish, unrealistic or uncivilized.
But those who would discard such requirements are the mad ones.
There could be no possible civilization without a form of law or
practical means forcing people to take the full and real
responsibility for what they claim expertise in. There would be no
possible civilization if hungry people were routinely invited to
restaurants, some of whom serve good food while many others
routinely serve deadly poison, with no available means to make
the difference or to complain afterwards.
In the present world, it turns out that even the right of speech
inside hospitals, by patients who suffered wrong treatments, is
This is but a character of totalitarian systems. In fact, it is
known that psychiatrists were happy under the Nazi and soviet
regimes, to get any political prisoner to make experiments on; and
this is a general intrinsic character of the psychiatric methods and
mentality rather than a specific accident from the dominating
political ideologies of the respective places and times, as this
blind and barbarian behavior can still be observed in our present
Western "civilization" just the same : today's behavior of
psychiatrists is a result of a perverse training of psychiatrists
oriented by misinformation from pharmaceutical industries into
barbarian behavior, only hidden under a "soft appearance" (many
psychiatrists can't just treat their patients like animals by force
but they still think the same and try to do it by other means
In a sane and civilized world, it should be a matter of common sense
that even a psychiatrist that would be "wise" with his own patients,
not harming their lives, should rather be stopped as a fool and
condemned as a criminal whenever he would tolerate the testimonies
of his wise actions by his own patients, to serve as an argument to
lead by "nice advice" some other unfortunate depressed people
to follow damaging treatments of his unwise colleagues.
There are currently laws against defamation, that forbid any public
accusation of some sorts against someone, no matter how true such
accusation may be (without unrealistic obligations of judicial
procedures, unaffordable lawyer expenses and so on, and that have no
decent chance for the truth to be officially recognized anyway).
But precisely, this anti-defamation law lets no reasonable chance
for any positive quality of a wise and reliable person, to be
known and trusted either by contrast.
To face the gaps between science and society and the proliferation
of pseudo-sciences, some efforts are made in ordinary terms
of teaching and popularization; but also, a special effort at
explanation and promotion of science and criticism of
pseudo-science, was developed by the "Scientific skepticism"
In some ways, they did a number of good works.
However, while this movement claims to represent science,
and indeed has includes a number of scientists, this representation
of science is not always faithful, their efforts often go to the
wrong targets, and they sometimes deviate from scientific thought
and practice too.
Most of their claimed principles of skepticism are usually correct;
but the main problem is that they often fail to apply these
principles correctly in practice, on effective issue of the
paranormal. Or, they prefer to focus on the most ridiculous claims
of paranormal in order to correctly dismiss them, while ignoring the
more genuine, defensible ones.
Such a trouble is expectable, because, as we said, the normal
scientific practice is normally based on dedication and isolation in
the ivory tower of science. So, the lobbying and communication work
done by skeptics, in an environment full of nonsense, and on
subjects where scientific knowledge is not so developed yet,
sometimes happens to deteriorate the rationality level of their
claims and practices.
This eventually leads them to some absurd results, associating
science with indefensible attitudes, making their efforts often
counter-productive with respect to their goal of explaining and
promoting science and rationality.
While rationality is indeed the right self-sufficient root of all
credibility, how ironical it is to see it discredited by clumsy
defenders trying to promote it as a religion,
by irrational methods.
We already mentioned the
scientific illiteracy of some of them. More aspects of their
irrationality, incompetence and similarities with what they
claim to oppose (religions, sects and pseudo-sciences), will be
developed in Part III.
A debate on rationalism
One site (in French) was developed to criticize the skeptic
movement identified with rationalism itself (since skeptics are
the loudest people claiming themselves rationalists). I had
discussion with the author for trying to explain how to
avoid this confusion. Here is a translation. (My messages are in
black, his are in blue.)
... I wondered what you meant by "Considering rationalism as an
equally reprehensible dogma ..." and looked at your
explanation [= defining "rationalism" as the belief in a fixed and
universal criteria of scientificity, may it be inductivism or
falsificationism, and always dogmatically classifying any
phenomenon as explainable in materialistic ways...].
But this use of the word "rationalism" does not suit me.
I think that although it can be seen as mainly a problem of
terminology, this problem is deeply linked to core issues, that
might be seen as details but they are important too. It is very
important to put everything clear and position oneself correctly,
first to better approach the truth, then to avoid being wrongly
attacked. For if you want to oppose people who are in error, it is
essential not to be misled by their mistakes in a way that would
play their game, even if meanwhile you are less mistaken than
(*) the word "zetetic" was first introduced by Marcelo Truzzi,
founder of CSICOP which was initially a more open-minded
movement; but then this movement and thus the use of the word
"zetetic" deviated from Truzzi's original intents towards more
sectarian attitudes and materialistic dogmas, forcing Truzzi to
leave the movement and abandon the word "Zetetic" to the copyright
of SCICOP's new pseudo-scientific practices and interpretation. The
French skeptic movement followed this trend calling themselves
"zététique", and did not tolerate the use this
word according to Truzzi's original sense by the group
criticizing them. I wrote a quick review of the situation of the
French skeptic movement here
First, for the vocabulary problem: how to make sense of the
word "rationalism" and on what basis to motivate this choice of
definition? Your use seems based on sociological considerations,
namely: to accept that the meaning of a word is defined by
the majority or dominant use of the word in today's world (what is
done in its name, the practices of those who use it).
Problem: is the current use of the word authentic or abusive?
Does the usual practice of the word really fit with its original
meaning, the one meant, claimed ?
Is there another interesting possibility or even effective
practice already implemented, more consistent with what
the word was supposed to mean, than the way this word is often
officially used ?
Consider the battle over the use of the title of "blog
zététique" that took place(*) I don't want
to give away the label "rationalist" to the official
skeptical movement, for the following reasons: Claiming oneself
rationalist, is definitely not the same as being
rational. There is a huge reality of rational practice, which
is science, and whose actual process is usually very
different, even opposite, from what I read from you. But the best
description of science is the developed practice of
reason in the form of scientific progress. So why not define
"rationalism" as the promotion and / or participation in the
progress of science and knowledge, as already done
and can go further? Would not this be a quite different
and more authentic meaning of this word, than the usual
practice of so-called "rationalist" activist movements ?
Furthermore, I explained in my site how important aspects of the
zetetic movement are similar to postmodernism, thus opposite to
the normal scientific rationality.
Otherwise, sorry if it sounds personal, but I can only classify
my worldview as rationalist, even if I do not put this name
forward. But it is quite different from the skeptics view, so I
must disagree with the skeptics'picture of rationalism, that
I see as caricatural.
[Also, the reference to philosophers (Popper as the "rationalist"
vs. Feyerabend as the "irrationalist") is irrelevant, as
philosophers are quite disconnected from the true understanding of
Thank you for your letter,
and references to your site I found very interesting.
First I must tell you that
you're the first one I see condemning the "zetetic"
approach while proclaiming rationalism (or so I
understand your position) . For me rationalism indeed
corresponds to extremism of the "zetetic" method that you condemn in the "skeptics" (what a
mixture of words, moreover misused in my opinion). For you it
just seems to be a good way to do science, that French "zetetician" are not doing. In
a word, I think we tend to agree, and condemn the same things,
but not with the same words.
Indeed, I think, perhaps
like you, that most of the French
"zeteticians" (except a few...) absolutely do not practice as
they claim "the art of doubt" because their own method
(what I call rationalism and you disagree) does not let
them doubt: by claiming to use universal arguments/protocols (whatever they
are, falsificationism, induction, the famous and so
subjective "Ockham's razor "...) able to ruthlessly sort, precisely with no doubt, theories, explanations between "good"
and "bad" and between "scientific" and "unscientific". It is
often said that there is "a" scientific method (without
ever specifying it, without ever really describing it), but I
notice that there are several. They have been several over
time, there will be others, because science is built, improved,
refined, corrects itself, is constantly evolving. And there are
also several at a given moment, because there is not really one
better than another. Some are more or less suited to the study /
discovery of a particular phenomenon. It's as you know what
Feyerabend defended, and it's hard not to join this quite... realistic vision, arguing that we
are far from the myth of science with its universally objective method as French "zeteticians" defend.
(I will use here one last
time the term in quotation marks, recalling
that zetetic (in the field of the paranormal) is the
creation of Marcello Truzzi, a true American skeptic, in the right sense of the term, who
really knew to doubt and abstain from deciding when missing an
argument one way or another. French
Zeteticians considerably usurp the term popularized by Truzzi
(in his Zetetician Scholar)
in the United States, and the American Rationalist (CSI,
formerly CSICOP for example) rather describe themselves as
"skeptics" (but do not doubt any further in their majority).
Zetetics "taught in ancient times" was a philosophical school
which advocated the permanent doubt, which French zeteticians
are far from.
I even think that in your
mention of a contradiction [skeptics'claim for democracy in
scientific judgement, in contradiction with their absolute
undebatable certainty and value judgement against the
paranormal], you miss another contradiction: claiming that the study of the paranormal
would aim to keep crowds in ignorance
and thus under control. Obviously, on the contrary, the
study of something aims to understand it, and by
disseminating this knowledge (whether or not a new phenomenon),
to free these crowds from mere beliefs, prejudices, etc.. They
simply do not understand "study" when they read it, but
"proselytizing" or "propaganda" for a given belief, without
valid scientific vehicle.
To come back to the term
"rationalism" that is the subject of your post, I did not invent
the interpretation. It is a term that has an adopted meaning
since some time now, and I do not see myself deciding to invent
another sense, as
corrupt today those of "zetetic" or even "skeptic" (I claim
myself skeptical in Truzzi's sense and feel far from their
thoughts). I recommend for example, if you have not already done
so, to read the excellent book by Alan F. Extension Chalmers: What is this Thing Called Science?
(Popper, Kuhn, Lakatos, Feyerabend), Discovery, 1976. The idea
is indeed that of the existence of universal / timeless criteria for judging theories. One can
understand this ideal, or even say that the French zetetician
misapply it and that you (or others) could do it better
but you understood, for me it is not a matter of
practice or modalities, but a principle in which I do not
believe. Again Feyerabend provides many examples in Against Method. Indeed as
you say the idea of applying "reason" is not the prerogative of
rationalism / scientism, but of any scientific method and, if I
may speak bluntly, for me just a mat (cream pie) debate on
the application of good scientific method.
I'll stop there (...) But
I think for the moment that what makes you claim "rationalist"
must typically depend on your position
relative to the existence of test(s) of universal
judgement of a theory. It may be that you are (and apply it
better than French zeteticians for example) or
otherwise you are simply a good "skeptic" in the true
I see the "scientific method" as a style of spirit and research,
which must be developed into multiple forms to adapt to multiple
situations, and can not be reduced to a specific algorithm.
For me, the notion of "really best method" has no universal
meaning, but should not be dismissed either, but must be
understood as something vague, depending on the specificity of
each studied problem and provisional understanding, and must
therefore be reconsidered continuously from one situation to
In other words, the recognition of hyper-complexity and
multifaceted nature of the world, should not be mistaken for
relativism (a bland uniformity of values).
Well, again we are in substantial agreement with different words.
> what makes you claim
on your position relative to the existence of test(s) of
universal judgement of a theory
No. Reason for me is a multifaceted general discipline, but
nevertheless differs significantly from a certain practice of
non-reason or intellectual laziness, in fact widespread in some
areas ("spiritual" teachings in particular).
A bit like the distinction between human thought and animal
thought, that does not need a clean break in the evolutionary
history to be something real.
The fact that there is no clean and precise wall (recognizable by
an idiot) separating what is rational from what is not, is not
inconsistent with the clear superiority of the practice of reason
(intelligence) over non-reason (stupidity). See also the beginning
of the introductory text ("Rationality and Realism, What is at
Stake ? by John R. Searle) on the issue of
discernibility between what is rational and what is not.
I hope I was clearer this time ...
I think the
misunderstanding is on the idea that "rationalism" is a general
term for simply strive for reason, what is rational or not. It
is not. What I am saying is that it is a well-defined school of
philosophy of science, and therefore we can not use it for
something else. If you want to define your approach as a search
of the rational, and if you want to avoid confusion with this
school, you should use another term.
I still see no reason to let to some specific school of philosophy
of science (which I did not care to study), the copyright on the
use of the word "rationalism", and the right to fix there a
pathological meaning, especially as it does not seem at all
to stick with the use of that word in that text by John R. Searle.
Now with the Wikipedia articles: the French one indeed seems to go
in your way, or perhaps even a third meaning.
However, the introductory paragraph of the English article on
interpretation I said.
I don't forget our
discussion. Maybe we are finally talking about the same thing
but highlighting different aspects: while you insist on the
virtuous use of "reason" as the only way to get to the truth, I
insist on the fact that this doctrine can be both fuzzy
(most people, whatever their theories about mysterious phenomena
will agree with it) and very restrictive (the English Wikipedia
cites, for example a definition by Bourke advocating deductive
reasoning (which, strictly applied, is very unfortunate and even
inapplicable, because the deduction requires the prior
development of theories, usually based on observations -
induction - etc. Of course deduction can be replaced by
any other methods or tools of reasoning called
"universal" but each have their flaws). And that is a
characteristic of rationalism that I do not defend: the idea of
a method / a universal tool to compare theories. This is also
the paradox of rationalism to advocate a universal method of
reasoning without describing which one it is (or only a very
blurred one such as the application of " reason" so we can not,
as you do during your battles with "skeptics", say who is
more rational if not by an arbitrary opinion - a good way
to maintain eternal discussions). For this, rationalism
is to me rather a doctrine (there is a universal reasoning
always valid, but I can not say which one) than a specific
method (practice / technique).
Have you read my texts ? (...).
I feel not.
I would describe reason as admittedly somehow fuzzy, but
Namely, for me, because: reason = intelligence.
If you are only looking for simplistic definitions of reason, of
course you will only find simplistic definitions.
It is absurd to require stupid definitions of intelligence.
For the reason is the same.
Of course, a Wikipedia article is simplifying by encyclopedic
For me, reason is not something to be defined, but something to be
From the Wikipedia article I only pointed out the introduction,
with which I agree: the primacy of reason over any other approach.
I did not see there the idea that rationalism would be the
belief that reason would be reducible to a simplistic definition
by the automated application of a tiny single method, I know
not where you take that from, and I do not expect many people to
interpet it so either. Of course there may be some small
definition proposals in the air, to describe one aspect or
another, but I do not see these as banners of simplicism that
would claim to completely formalize and end what reason is.
To be honest, this is for me the first time I find someone who
makes such an amalgam between rationalism and simplicism. I've
never seen it elsewhere.
Even zeteticians, who develop a simplistic and degenerate version
of reason, do not conceive reason as simplistic. For them
too, reason is to deploy their thinking as far as they can. The
only problem is that this deployment of reason which they carry
out as much as they can according to the extent of their
abilities, is limited by the narrow size their own brain.
Please do not blame rationalism for the narrow brain of its
loudest defenders. This is just unrelated.
OK, a definition, if one is necessary:
Rationalism = claim that scientific-like research (involving
intelligence, with all its rich subtleties such as deployed in
many sciences, not excluding other subtleties yet to be added to
fit with more issues) is generally more likely to lead to the
right discernment of the truth on most truth issues, than
traditional religious ways like praying, singing, faith in
Jesus or in Islam, nirvana or other "spiritual" meditation
practices, the obsession of humility, or this or other feelings,
reading the Bible or any other traditional sacred text, or
the popular simplistic, fuzzy, immature sort of thought.
This is my definition of rationalism, which, as far as I know,
does not seem any way at odds with its most common
Need I remind you that this position of rationalism, is far
from obvious for many people.
Indeed right now in the world, it seems most people are
opposed to rationalism as I just defined. They firmly believe
that the only way to truth is faith in Jesus and baptism of
the Holy Spirit, or the Buddhist meditation, or the like. So if
you do not agree with them that religious practices lead more
surely to the truth than scientific research, then you're part of
the small minority of rationalists on this earth, whether you like
it or not.
I have not read your texts
more than last time, sorry.
It seems to me that there
are misunderstandings of my position in what you say in your
When I say fuzzy, I mean it
is not at all accurate, it is too general (and thus a doctrine
rather than a method). You can tell at length what is the
application of science rather than non-science, but you still do
not specify the idea. For me your definition boils down to "the
application of reason is better" without saying why, how, etc.
cannot really define what means "scientific" apart through its
results ("you see, it works better than the rest" - but why? And
is this always true?). Because the border between science and
non-science is not always obvious, and it is better defined by
its methods (absent from a definition of reason) than by a
general idea. This is not the application
of the use of reason (say, doing science) that I find
simplistic, but its definition (non-existent or vague / general
/ subjective). That is why, even if I consider like you,
scientific explanations as more convincing than mystical explanations of the world, I
do not claim any rationalism. For me what is important is to
things, in the
sense of verifiable by everyone (so, the opposite of
subjectivity), whether it be in a box "science" or not.
So I agree with the idea
that rationalism mainly includes the idea of "every reason is
good," but it does not bring much in itself (i.e. it is vague),
and the real content that follows is a sort of "soft
dictatorship" that imposes a /several universal method(s) *
(which non-science would not have) without really
defining them (no method specified). What is all this vagueness
for ? I think, for rejecting what a priori
scares rationalists (the mystical, etc..), so as to
maintain this "great divide" between science and non-science
(formerly non-science = popular culture, but it is reducing
now), between "serious" people and others. Rationalists
want to mark their
* Where do I take this
from ? I've already said, the book is a source of Chalmers,
"What is science?".
(Not reading, deprives the discussion of chances to progress).
I remember the comparison:
It is impossible to define humans versus animals,
but can one deny the ability of man to know the
world better than animals ?
It would be wrong to require a stupid definition of intelligence,
and to conclude that intelligence does not exist by lack of a
stupid satisfying definition.
So, reason is fundamentally different from non-reason, insofar as
the adjective "fundamental" is understood to mean something
practical and contextual, that has NOTHING TO DO with that of
"essential" = separate by profound nature, binary or things like
See more I wrote on essentialism
On the next remarks: I'm not sure what to answer specifically, or
how it could change my previous statements, except to specify the
following very important point:
In reply to:
"Because ultimately you cannot really define what
means "scientific" apart through its results ("you see, it works
better than the rest" - but why? And is this always true?).
Because the border between science and non-science is not always
Sorry but I must contradict you there:
Indeed, what brings me to discuss science, is indeed
that I am basically much involved in math and theoretical
physics, and theoretical reflections on various topics from
childhood, and I thus reached important achievements in these
areas. One of my experiences, was my fervent evangelical faith
that lasted a number of years, followed by a complete
deconversion, after which I have done a tremendous work of
restoring order to my understanding of this whole religious
All this gives me some very extensive and intimate knowledge
of science and reason.
So for me, talking about reason is the opposite of something
vague, but it's a gigantic universe that I know well, and it is
only as an intimate knower of this universe, that I dare to talk
I do not doubt that you
have an opinion on what is reasonable or meaningful
("scientific" say some, while there are a lot of scientific results or even methods that
are wrong) and what is not (or worse, if we take the reference
of your evangelical experience). I do not doubt that this
opinion is based on considerable experience in these areas, and
you speak knowingly.
unfortunately), it brings nothing as long as it cannot be shared
(hence the importance of publishing works in science, for
example). Saying "I know very well to discern good from bad",
the rational from the irrational or the unscientific from the
scientific, is good for you, but it is incommunicable to others
as such. There is no other scientific knowledge than a shared
knowledge. To make it communicable requires to communicate
something repeatable by others (typically via a description of a
method to reproduce the knowledge you claim to have discovered).
And this communicable, shareable description, still lacks in your speech that remains
paradoxically subjective on science (from what I've read so far
in our discussion).
Understand me well, I do
not blame you for not providing such a universal description of
what science is, or what method should be applied systematically
to arrive at scientific truth, because I think it is not
possible. To say that it is possible, is rationalism.
Let's go further:
Indeed I can not verbally communicate intelligence itself, the
source of insights that I developed.
Nevertheless, there are still very significant things I can
produce and communicate verbally, especially some actual
understanding of a number of specific topics. So I can communicate
something of my reason in the form of examples, a lot of
discussions and explanations on specific things.
And more specifically, on issues among the most important I could
Texts I wrote on the foundations of mathematics, on religion, on a
number of myths that dominate the world, economy, etc..
And I think that, even though it will ever be the magic potion to
discern for sure what is most rational from what is at fault
among all movements and all teachings of the present or future
world, at least it can make significant progress.
For even if reason itself is not transmissible, a good overview of
a number of rational thoughts that can give some knowledge and
serve as examples while refuting a number of currently widespread
mistakes, pitfalls and obstacles to reason, can help inspire
people in the right direction.
My own progress in the exercise of reason, came by practicing it
and seeing what helps to go further and what does not, so that a
success can inspire further success...
Thus, examples of well-conducted reflections can inspire others to
To come back to the initial subject:
Yes, reason exists, it is a very real thing, even if,
precisely the same way as many other subtle realities studied by
science (dark matter, etc. etc.), it can be very difficult to
capture or characterize.
And it's not because something is difficult to discern or
understand, that it does not exist.
To try to re-explain things:
For me (and I think, for many others too), reason makes sense
only insofar as it is actually useful to advance the understanding
of reality. Therefore, what for should one claim to define and
communicate reason in a pure form ? Indeed, reason truly
becomes reason, only by its effective work on reality. It would
not make sense to transmit reason separately from what it can be
here for. The problem of skeptics, who uses the paranormal as
an example, is that, while admittedly, somehow it would be good to
present reason as applied to something, it is also necessary to do
truly and sincerely, appropriately to the reality of the object at
stakes. Because the real goal should be the object, reality, and
not reason for itself. For, a reason that would be reduced to
itself or seeked for its own purpose, disconnected from the
reality that it is here to discover, even if some bits of
reality would be used as an exercise, would simply not be
reason anymore. (This remark does not diminish the rationality of
pure mathematics, which is an effective knowledge of the existing
world of mathematics, even if different from the usual world,
rather than an empty methodology).
To use anything as an excuse or support to communicate reason, is
already a diversion from reason. The real reason can exist and be
transmitted only by being taken neither as an object in itself,
nor even a priority, but by treating it fully and honestly as it
should always have remained: a discipline subordinated to the
study to its true goal which is knowledge of reality.
I therefore believe that the true rationalism must renounce trying
to define reason as a definable object, in favor of its
development as a reality, as a kind of sport that exists only
through its practice.
So my main approach is to develop my own exercise of reason, and
work to make it succeed in something. It would be absurd to try
out a characterization of reason without having prior
"evidence", experience of how this can effectively help
the progress of knowledge. Finally, this "reason" by which I
could finally discover reality, turns out to be
neither simpler, more fundamental or transmissible
than its fruits (knowledge). Thus it is just natural to me,
in my rationalism (= desire of contributing to the development of
rational understanding in the world) to attach as much importance
and care to first exercise reason in myself and then share
the fruit obtained, than models of reasoning that led me there.
Is this clearer?
Some further ideas that came to me afterwards:
One could say that the method is to science what means of
transport are to travel.
Means of transport are required to travel, but they are not the
Putting forward some scientific methods, may be useful to people
who might currently have no method to progress but say still
and only dream of traveling rather than really travel in the world
of knowledge; who dream of knowledge but have none true and
reliable. Or maybe, who develop some partial knowledge, but mixed
with errors, and remain unable to sort them. Unfortunately, this
is precisely a very common situation across currently
widespread religions and spiritualities.
But the presence of some possible means of transport, does not
exclude other useful ones. Some are genuine, others illusory.
How do we know? Well that's a big problem, the answer is not
always given in advance ... however, the point is that, fantasy
and actual travel are two separate things, and the abundance of
people who seriously imagine themselves on the moon while
they are only there in dream, is a major problem. And the presence
of a serious problem, does not mean that the mistaken ones would
necessarily be "at fault" in any sense whatsoever, nor that any
readily available solution must always be here under hand - but
some possibilities of a few significant steps forward
do exist, and need to be used.
Also, normally the high-level rational discussions are
debates in which many specific questions can be addressed, but
where the qualifiers of "rational" and other variations of this
word, has no place because it lacks the necessary meaningfulness
for the issues involved (it would sound like the battles of
insults among children, away from the real debate). But there are
also hopeless cases, where one debater is unable of
reason; this lack of rationality turns out to be a major
obstacle to any attempt at dialogue, letting no other option for
the other, but to express this observation of failure in
terms of irrationality ... while the other may have a similar
impression in the other way round. Who is really right? Well, hard
Also, I do not see the issue of rationality as a matter of
"criterion for comparing theories". Reason is a dynamic for
the constitution and development of any theory.
Some theories are rationally developed, others less. There is
no on the one hand, theories enjoying an independent reality in
the world of ideas, then on the other hand, a rationality
criterion falling from the sky that would give them good or bad
marks. Reason was there in the first place to build theories
presented, then it can come back and rework them, review them and
modify the old ideas into new, clarified ideas (that may or may
not be rigorously equivalent to the former version).
But, while a good form of skepticism is part of rationality, we
cannot reduce rationality to it.
Genuinely rational skepticism insists on either rejecting or
avoiding judgement for claims or phenomena where no evidence is
present yet. While it is indeed necessary to not pretend to know
something that cannot be checked, and we have no "right" to
systematically demand or pretend having all the needed evidence for
the truth on all questions we "need to know", this is not a
satisfactory end of the story.
And, just as science's acknowledgement of its incompleteness did not
prevent it from discovering a very good deal of
knowledge, there are indeed many answers readily available to
reason about the sense of life, which shall be presented in the next
Part I - Part II - Part
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