The main paper
(of which this is an annex) is a reflection on engagement with the quantity of information, the challenge of quality and selectivity, and the consequences of ignorance and confusion as time goes by. The situation becomes ever more evident through the increasing accessibility of information, the lack of time to consider most of it, and the need to focus on what appears to be of immediate concern. The situation is aggravated by the range and complexity of the tools by which it is possible to engage with available knowledge and insight — and diminishing motivation to acquire the skills to use them, or the capacity to do so.
The situation is notably characterized by the multiplicity of purveyors of information and insight — from the wisdom of the past to the creativity of the present, radically reframed by imaginative speculations on the future. Engagement is further challenged by the claims and disregard with respect to any insight — and the questionable efforts towards integrative reformulations to facilitate comprehension and memorability, such as to nourish the quality of life. The potential of global sensemaking
has as yet to be realized.
The issues are of significance on the occasion of the publication by the widely-read journal Scientific American
of a special issue focusing on the State of the World’s Science
(October 2012). In an exercise in comprehensible triumphalism, of particular interest is the range of issues with which it does not
deal and how these impact on knowledge processes in a global society — one increasingly defining itself as knowledge-based. It could easily be concluded from that survey that “science” is significantly characterized by the knowledge whose relevance it denies — or of which it chooses to be unaware. In that sense, science could well be understood as being in a curious form of profound denial which merits attention in its own right — especially by science.
Dogmas of science: In an accessible summary of the argument of his recent book (Science Set Free: 10 paths to new discovery, 2012), Rupert Sheldrake indicates the The Ten Dogmas of Modern Science (2012)[see also 10 Dogmas Debunked, 2012; 10 Dogmas of Modern Science, 2012]. These are the ten core beliefs he considers that most scientists take for granted, effectively constituting the scientific creed — which Sheldrake discusses in chapters framed as questions:
As Sheldrake carefully argues, with many illustrative examples, together these beliefs make up the philosophy or ideology of materialism, whose central assumption is that everything is essentially material or physical, even minds (see Louis Makiello, The Science Delusion, The Epoch Times, 31 August 2012). It is however appropriate to take his critical argument further to explore processes which inform that mindset and are indicative of modalities which might indeed “set science free” — thereby increasing its credibility and relevance to people and governance.
There is an appropriate degree of irony and ambiguity between the original title of Sheldrake’s book and that required by his publishers for the American market, namely The Science Delusion: freeing the spirit of enquiry in contrast with Science Set Free: 10 paths to new discovery. Many would consider that “science” is too free with the truths it chooses to cultivate, and quite deluded regarding those it deprecates — as favoured by other modes of knowing.
Also of relevance to the points discussed below, and presumably an inspiration to those of Sheldrake, are David Bohm‘s controversial “challenges to some generally prevailing views” as outlined in the Wikipedia entry describing his innovative work on Wholeness and the Implicate Order (1980). In proposing this new notion of order, he explicitly challenged a number of tenets that he believed are fundamental to much scientific work, namely:
- Phenomena are reducible to fundamental particles and laws describing the behaviour of particles, or more generally to any static (i.e., unchanging) entities, whether separate events in space-time, quantum states, or static entities of some other nature;
- Human knowledge is most fundamentally concerned with mathematical prediction of statistical aggregates of particles;
- Analysis or description of any aspect of reality (e.g., quantum theory, the speed of light) can be unlimited in its domain of relevance;
- The Cartesian coordinate system, or its extension to a curvilinear system, is the deepest conception of underlying order as a basis for analysis and description of the world;
- There is ultimately a sustainable distinction between reality and thought, and that there is a corresponding distinction between the observer and observed in an experiment or any other situation (other than a distinction between relatively separate entities valid in the sense of explicate order); and
- It is, in principle, possible to formulate a final notion concerning the nature of reality, i.e., a Theory of Everything.
Systemic knowledge processes neglected by science: What are the dimensions of knowledge and information of which science is itself uncritical or unconscious? Although presented as a checklist below (minimally ordered), the following are variously interrelated from a systemic perspective which could merit clarification (cf. Map of Systemic Interdependencies None Dares Name: 12-fold challenge of global life and death, 2011). A significant proportion of these additional factors would seem to be partially or completely ignored in Sheldrake’s remarkable critique:
Questionable ability of science to communicate meaning: The issues highlighted above (and explored below) raise the question as to whether the very language of science is capable of providing meaning to the lives of many — given the constraints of an exploding information society. Can science deliver meaning throughout the knowledge universe? If not, why not? What space does it offer to those without access to the latest insights — and therefore necessarily condemned to being “wrong” and to live in disagreement with those who are “right” and know the truth?
Ironically astrophysics is now faced with the recognition of “dark matter
” and “dark energy
” about whose nature it is itself fundamentally ignorant. With “dark matter” now estimated to constitute 84% of the matter in the universe, this might be considered remarkably comparable to the level of ignorance in the knowledge universe. That “dark energy” currently accounts for 73% of the total mass-energy of the universe could be considered reminiscent of the shadowy (poorly acknowledged) complicities within the knowledge universe (cf. John Ralston Saul
, The Unconscious Civilization
The successive emergence of software updating computer operating systems offers a remarkable metaphor of the process whereby science ensures the emergence of ever-improved theories of the universe — versions offering additional “features”, upheld as ever more desirable. Each new software version is declared to be necessarily better than the last, and may well not be “backwards compatible
“. Any “legacy systems
” are then to be condemned as obsolete — even “prehistoric”, as with their users.
The process is an integral feature of the business models of those releasing such upgrades — as with the career advancement models associated with theory production in the academic world. In failing to take account of the economic and learning situations of the users of purportedly outdated “languages” — costs are incurred in both cases, and are dismissed in both cases.
Science fails to address the condition and viability of the “left behind” — of which biological evolution offers many useful examples, as epitomized by the coelacanth
(now alive in the depths of the Indian Ocean, having failed to comprehend the evolutionary imperative). In so doing science replicates the pattern of religion
with respect to the “left behind
Of relevance to the further consideration of multiverse, the software metaphor may be usefully explored in the light of unconventional software applications which provide a virtual environment within which older (“obsolete”) operating systems, of disparate form and origin, may successfully operate. Known as x86 virtualization
, examples include VirtualBox
(see platform virtual machines
, application virtual machines
). Appropriate to their metaphorical relevance here, many are free, and even “open source
” — rather than being behind the kind of paywall likely to characterize the emergence and dissemination of a Theory of Everything and representations of the multiverse.
This communication failure ignores and disparages the forms of communication that the wider population finds meaningful, as in the case of social networking. In so doing it fails to explore ways of enabling the emergence of greater insight and more appropriate forms of organization through those processes. Most curiously, the tendency of science to promote its own merits unreservedly as a mode of knowing (as a form of “positive” propaganda) obscures the more scientific approach to “negative” feedback. This complementary perspective is valued as fundamental to the cybernetic insights appreciated by science as appropriate to viable organization. This reinforces similar negligence with respect to remedial strategic responses to crises.
The following factors endeavour to highlight the manner in which “science” is not-scientific”. In that respect science is very much its own metaphor — in the spirit indicated by Gregory Bateson.