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
What is science, in short
Science is the activity of making the extended careful examination
that is needed to properly understand aspects of the world that do
not show themselves in a directly obvious manner.
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"
Criticism of the academic
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 :
philosophy make 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 may also be possible to find
there a minority of decent approaches: a
possible example (I only looked briefly)
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 good for 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 (the
beginning + references is available in pdf or web
archive), 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 global warming:
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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