Man has evolved to survive and reproduce within an ever-changing environment. This environment is almost entirely unknown, due to a limited ability to perceive reality. I know, it probably seems to you that you know quite a bit about reality. You understand red shift and the expanding universe; you know we live in the arm of a spiral galaxy and the Milky Way is the view through the body of it. You know we live on a spinning globe, which is constructed of continents. You know the general topography of your region and the streets and highways surrounding your home. You know the contents of your home, what you had for breakfast, and that your body is constantly covered with symbiotic bacteria and insects.
Consider sight. We see the world around us via light waves: it appears solid, real, unquestionable. Of course you know about the spectrum of light: ROYGBIV. Your perception of the visible world is entirely composed of waves from this spectrum. This is known as the visible spectrum, which means that there is an invisible spectrum. Take a look at this graph of the electromagnetic spectrum and try to appreciate what a tiny fraction of it you are able to perceive.
Are UV or microwaves any less real, even though they are beyond your visual perception? You can perceive UV and microwaves, because they burn your skin, while x-rays (nuclear radiation) are totally beyond your perception, even though they can kill you as surely as bullets. Hopefully you are getting an appreciation for the tiny fractions of the electromagnetic spectrum that you can perceive and the vast stretches of it that lie outside your ability to perceive in any way. Similarly, there is an audible spectrum, the tiny fraction of sound waves the human ear can perceive.
The eye and ear have passed the Darwinian test: they provide enough perception to allow us to survive and reproduce. Every extension in perception requires a concomitant increase in processing power, and you probably know that the brain accounts for about 2% of body weight but consumes 20% of the body’s calories at rest. It takes a lot of calories to maintain a brain, which is why most species opted for the economy models.
The main point is that there is much more to reality than you can perceive. Far more. And that’s not taking into account the perceptual tricks that your brain plays to make the world seem far more solid to you than what you actually can perceive. Even though the world appears solid to you visually, your brain is only processing a tiny fraction of your visible field but providing the illusion that you are actually seeing reality, which is why prestidigitation and pick-pocketing work. There’s a famous “selective attention” experiment which illustrates this phenomenon beautifully. The more you study perception, the more you realize just how little of reality you can actually perceive and process (attention). It’s simply efficient to maintain just enough biological functionality of perception and cognition (and then to attend to only a tiny fraction of perception) to survive and reproduce and not much more.
I haven’t even mentioned the environment beyond your perception, such as things at microscopic scale, or galactic scale, or the insects crawling through your walls.
Entering the Dream World
The method by which man extends his understanding of reality and subsequently adapts to it is a fascinating topic. Children learn that the scientific method means proposing a hypothesis, constructing a test of the hypothesis, collecting data from the test, and communicating the results. How is a hypothesis created? The need for a hypothesis is predicated on the understanding that some aspect of reality is beyond our immediate comprehension, yet we know it is there, and we are extending ourselves toward it, attempting to find a method of perceiving it. We intuit that there is something there, but we have no idea what it is or how to find it.
Dreams are perfectly valid producers of intuition and hypothesis. Dreams, fevers, near death experiences, drugs, meditation, prayer, stories, legends, myths and religious experiences are all valid methods of formation of hypotheses. Science is simply a set of steps that we can attempt to use to launder our intuitions of error, bias, and wishful thinking. I say attempt, because working around our own biological and psychological biases, not to mention personal self-interest, is an almost impossible task, as the Replication Crisis is showing us in excruciating detail. Academia and science itself are in a death spiral of confidence due to the numerous obstacles and perverse incentives which prevent scientists and academics from laundering their testimony of error, bias and wishful thinking.
I am trying to communicate that there is a space, a gap, between the ultimate reality of the universe (which we may call God or the unknown) and between our ability to articulate the rules of that reality. This is the space where intuition operates, beyond our conscious control, in a separate area of consciousness, which we call the subconscious. I tend to think of this as the dream world. This is where the artist operates, where hypothesis and intuition are born, in an unarticulated landscape of sensations and images and emotions.
We sense that almost all of reality is unknown to us, but we are sure it exists and that we are subject to its rules of operation. We know that we must obey these unseen rules, and we must stretch our minds out beyond our articulated understanding to meet them. This is the domain of the artist, the prophet, and now the scientist. The scientist must touch the edge of the dream world (hypothesis, intuition) and then attempt to launder the hypothesis of error, bias and wishful thinking, to render a truthful testimony which attests to the true nature of reality.
Similarly, religion, myth and legend are attempts to articulate the patterns of alignment with the totality of the set of objects and phenomena, both known and unknown, that we call reality. Religion, myth and legend communicate patterns of behavior which have been intuited to encapsulate some truth about how man can align himself with both the known and unknown. These mystical forms of transmission of course deal with phenomena such as dreams and visions, which operate outside of the domain of the conscious and articulated mind in the subconscious (sub-lingual) area of the mind where the faculty of intuition operates.
The scientific method cannot operate in the dream world, the subconscious mind, and ironically, science is entirely dependent upon the operation of the subconscious mind and the faculty of intuition. The dream world, intuition, is the generator of the hypothesis which is at the root of the scientific method. Intuition is the root faculty which provides man the ability to bridge the gap between the known and the unknown aspects of reality.
The scientific method is only a set of tools used to launder error, bias and wishful thinking from our testimony of the nature of that reality, while religion, myth and legend are tools used to communicate the patterns detected by the subconscious mind, as stories which contain both the truth and artifacts from the dream world. The fact that visions, myth and legend are communicated in the raw language of the subconscious (unlaundered by the scientific method), is by no means an indicator that visions, myth and legend are devoid of valid testimony about how man can align himself with both the known and unknown aspects of reality in order to improve his chances of survival and reproduction.
Parallels: Christianity and Science
The more one studies the history of science, the clearer it becomes that modern science has a deeply religious background. The Greeks, you say? Yes, Aristotle (born 384 BC) is the father of what we would call the proto-scientific method. We really get the scientific method with Bacon (born 1561) and Newton (born 1642). What about the approximately two thousand years between these thinkers? The line that holds them together is essentially the Church.
For hundreds of years, European higher education took place at Christian cathedral schools or monastic schools, where monks and nuns taught. This was the prototype of the modern university system, which grew organically out of the Christian higher education system. Consider the religious affiliations of most old universities in the West, and you’ll get a feel for the enmeshed nature of Christianity and science.
Is it a coincidence that professors and priests wear black robes and hats for important ceremonies? Not at all, as priests, monks, and nuns taught in Christian schools. The university professor is the modern version of the priest. The role of the university professor and the priest are functionally the same, to act as intermediaries between the reality that is beyond our perception and comprehension and our daily experience. They both translate the unknowable into the knowable and then transmit this knowledge to the laity/public. They both work on the edge of the dream world and the common world.
However, both Christian institutions and their progeny, the academic institutions, are governed and operated by men, and all men have their own interests to serve. Academics and their students often like to remind us of the Catholic practice of selling indulgences, where laity could purchase forgiveness of sins. This was possible because the priesthood was the intermediary between God and man in exactly the same way that scientists and academics are the intermediary between nature and man. Is it possible that scientists and academics could fall prey to self-interest, error, bias and wishful thinking, in exactly the same way that the priesthood did?
The Instrumentalist Problem
Given that perception operates within a limited scope, the utility of extending perception becomes obvious. If something is too small to see, we use a device, an instrument of some sort which extends our perception, such as eyeglasses, a magnifying glass or a microscope. Similarly, if something is too far away we use instruments such as binoculars or a telescope. To more accurately perceive groups of organisms, we conduct data surveys and use statistical analysis to detect patterns. All of these extensions of perception require specialized knowledge and training. Not just anyone can build an electron microscope. We need specialists in instrumentation to manage the instruments with which we extend mankind’s perception of reality. We can call these specialists instrumentalists, who must master the intricacies of their particular instrument in exactly the same manner as a cellist: through persistent hard work (and with some innate talent).
Of course, the difference is that most anyone can tell if a particular cellist has mastered his instrument, but it’s a bit harder to detect if a statistician is doing a good job. You have to be an instrumentalist in order to understand what another instrumentalist is doing. Then you have to do quite a bit of work to confirm his work.
Most people have neither the ability, nor the time to double-check the work of statisticians and sociologists, and this is the purported function of the peer review system. This quote is from the conclusion of Richard Smith’s article Peer review: a flawed process at the heart of science and journals published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine (JRSM).
So, peer review is a flawed process, full of easily identified defects. Nevertheless, it is likely to remain central to academia because there is no obvious alternative, and scientists and editors have a continuing belief in peer review.
I previously mentioned the Replication Crisis, which is the result of the failure of peer review. The heart of the failure of the peer is the Instrumentalist Problem: You have to be an instrumentalist in order to understand what another instrumentalist is doing. Then you have to do quite a bit of work to confirm his work.
This NOBA Project article, The Replication Crisis in Psychology, references the data in the article Estimating the Reproducibility of Psychological Science. The findings of the original article are summed up in the following NOBA Project graph, which describes “the replication of 100 experiments reported in papers published in 2008 in three high-ranking psychology journals.” On average, two-thirds of those experiments could not be replicated.
That’s only psychology. This same problem exists in all disciplines. This article references 120 entirely fake articles, which have been published in peer reviewed journals. The articles have been removed, so a blog at Nature kept a record of the IEEE-wiped-articles.
You can still use MathGen to generate random mathematics papers today. The blog bragged back in September of 2012, when its first randomly generated math paper was accepted to a reputable peer reviewed journal: Mathgen paper accepted! _ That’s Mathematics!. That was the first MathGen paper to be accepted, mind you.
Continuing from Richard Smith’s critique of peer review:
One difficult question is whether peer review should continue to operate on trust. Some have made small steps beyond into the world of audit. The Food and Drug Administration in the USA reserves the right to go and look at the records and raw data of those who produce studies that are used in applications for new drugs to receive licences. Sometimes it does so. Some journals, including the BMJ, make it a condition of submission that the editors can ask for the raw data behind a study. We did so once or twice, only to discover that reviewing raw data is difficult, expensive, and time consuming. I cannot see journals moving beyond trust in any major way unless the whole scientific enterprise moves in that direction. [emphasis and emphasis mine]
Even if you have the ability to review another instrumentalist, it’s difficult, expensive, and time consuming. Hence, almost no one ever does it. The whole system operates on trust. Hence, Smith’s wry conclusion: “How odd that science should be rooted in belief.”
There’s a great scene from the show It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (which I mostly despise for its post-modern humor) called “Science is a liar… sometimes“. Take a moment to watch the scene, which humorously illustrates the problem with instrumentalism, namely that unless you’ve seen the records and pored through the facts, the figures, and the numbers, then in fact everything that you believe that comes from science is simply revealed knowledge (transmitted to you via the priesthood of science: academia) that you have accepted on faith. This faith is known as Scientism.
Science is a methodology for laundering error, bias and wishful thinking from your hypotheses. Scientism is a religion, a cult, based on the faith in the authority of academia. The members of this cult accept the diktats of the academy as revealed knowledge. Scientism, like other religions, exists because mankind knows that there is a reality that exists beyond his perception which he must understand and adapt to in order to survive and reproduce. Because the perception of this unknown reality is a process of intuition followed by an almost impossibly difficult process of laundering error, bias and wishful thinking, while at the same time fighting the incentives to lie for personal gain, and using instrumentation that is difficult to operate and master, we rely on specialists to perform this task; and we simply trust that they aren’t lying.
One of the main dangers of a religious faith in Scientism is hubris: the notion that because now that I Fucking L♡ve Science! (25 million likes on Facebook), we don’t need religions (because Science™ isn’t a religion, you see) and mankind can simply Science™ his way into the future. This is the simple mental model used Scientians.
Faith is a wondrous thing. It is said to have the power to move mountains. How do we know where we should put our faith? Through scientific inquiry, the West has produced astounding technological wonders. Doesn’t the existence of all the wonders of technology prove that we should have faith in Science™?
But what if Science™ is a liar sometimes? Well, fortunately (or not so fortunately) we have a solution to the problem of scientism. We call it the Darwinian Filter.
The Darwinian Filter
Scientism is a very new religion. Christianity, at two thousand years, is in comparison a relatively old religion. Keep in mind that religions come and go. How can be sure that Scientism isn’t just another flash in the pan?
G.K. Chesterton has some great insights and quotes about traditionalism. One of my favorites:
Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to that arrogant oligarchy who merely happen to be walking around. – Orthodoxy, 1908
Chesterton is pointing to the Darwinian Filter. Judging a religion based on its alignment to empirical phenomenon, that which is in the set of objects and phenomena that we can label known and can be articulated, entirely misses the point of religions: religions are attempts to align with that which is unknown and unseen, to extend perception to that which is outside the set of objects that can label known. We can judge whether or not a religion is in alignment with the unknown rules and the unseen ruler if is survives the process of natural selection. This is Chesterton’s democracy of the dead: those who survived and reproduced and passed their beliefs on to their progeny have their voices echo through the ages.
The Darwinian filter is the ultimate judge of truth and falsehood. Only that which is aligned both with the known and the unknown can survive. Sam Harris and Jordan Peterson had a pair of conversations about the topic of truth. Essentially, Peterson advocates that the Darwinian Filter (natural selection) is the ultimate yardstick by which we judge truth because passing the filter shows that the truth is in alignment with both the known and the unknown. Harris, being a materialist rationalist, only judges truth by comparing it to the set of what is known (empiricism), and ignores that which is unknown. This is scientism at work: limiting discussion to the known (empirical) and ignoring the unknown even though it is clear that the unknown is every bit as real, powerful and deadly as the known.
To be clear, I understand why materialist rationalists like Harris want to limit truth to that which is empirical: because the doorway to the unknown leads to the Dream World, and that way lies madness. In order to keep his logic clean and simplify his calculations, he discards the unknown. I understand how this makes the decision process simpler, but it can lead to conclusions which can be corrected only by the Darwinian Filter.
For example, it’s now almost universally accepted that communism is a failed ideology, but it should be pointed out that communism is a scientistic ideology. Communism was a modernist project to create a scientific government based on rational assumptions. It sounded true to a lot of people who thought long and hard about the relevant concepts. It was logical, rational and scientific. The Russians tried to implement it… and tens of millions died. Of course, “maybe some of the equations weren’t balanced correctly” thought the Chinese, so they attempted a modified implementation… and tens of millions died. Then “The Chinese must have miscalculated,” thought the Cambodians.
Eventually, after enough millions had died, it was observed that communism was repeatedly failing to pass the Darwinian Filter, so some began to wonder if there was some unknown force or rule (besides evil capitalist pigs) causing the failure. It was also observed that the archaic systems being overthrown in favor of communism had passed the Darwinian Filter. We should note that the feudal orders that preceded modernity were at least functional enough to allow for some stable level of survival and reproduction, and that in hindsight communism wasn’t a great trade. The communists thought that they no longer needed to account for Chesterton’s democracy of the dead, because Science™.
The Cargo Cult of Scientism
An essential key to understanding Scientism is that it looks like Science™ to the naïve observer. Science has a feeling, a language, a meter. Science is cool and collected. Science uses large, strange words. Science is new and smooth, shiny, glossy.
Science is none of those things because science is a series of methodologies to launder error, bias and wishful thinking from our testimony about reality. What I was just describing was technology and marketing.
There are cases in the 20th century where Westerners came into contact with various Melanesian primitives. They arrived in ships and airplanes and brought gifts for the natives and other supplies: their cargo. After seeing the wonderful cargo of the Westerners, some leaders of the primitives had visions and instructed their followers to construct mock airplanes in order to bring more cargo. These groups became known as Cargo Cults for their belief that mimicking technology would bring them cargo.
Scientism works like a cargo cult. A charismatic leader who mimics the look and feel of Science™, convinces his followers that the cargo will come. When the cargo does not materialize, then eventually he needs to identify some scapegoat to blame, some secret evildoer who works so subtly that he cannot be detected. Almost by magic, the evildoer commits his crime and spoils the cargo. For the communists, this evildoer was the capitalist, the kulak, whose superior material standing was proof enough of his crime. For our post-modern multiculturalists, racial peace, harmony and equity is only staved off by the evil racist, whose magic works so subtly now that only “systemic” or “institutional” racism can be detected when the SAT scores or socio-economic data are collected. For the feminist, despite years of affirmative action there are fewer women in tech only because of the evil of the misogynistic patriarchy, and any man who refuses to own up to his oppressor status will not be allowed a job.
As long as charlatans can present their case in a package that looks and sounds scientistic, then they can pass off amazing nonsense as Science™. You remember the Replication Crisis and MathGen, right?
Currently, educated people are so habituated to scientism that they don’t believe what is in front of their own eyes, because some scientist tells them that reality runs counter to their intuition.
Once we have been shamed enough times by the failure of our silly human intuition, we learn not to trust ourselves, because we are not highly trained instrumentalists. Even highly trained instrumentalists cannot question other highly trained instrumentalists if they are in different fields. We are bombarded by shows which love to prove how our natural intuitions are wrong. Because there are so many fascinating examples of reality working counter to our intuition, and because some smart scientist showed us the truth, our confidence in our own observations and conclusions are eroded.
One day, someone tells us that race isn’t real and that it’s nothing more than a construct to justify the oppression of non-whites, and we wonder how we ever believed that we were members of an extended family called race. This revealed knowledge shows that the world’s history of ethnic conflict was all the result of misguided intuition as we rapturously chant “Diversity is our greatest strength!” Or, we knowingly nod when the teacher tells us that gender roles are socially constructed and there’s nothing a man can do that a woman can’t do just as well.
We feel shame when the revealed knowledge of Science™ leads us to realize that the manner in which we sat on the train the day before was an expression of the patriarchy. Very soon, Science™ promises to free us from the arbitrary and socially constructed age barriers which prevent true love between adults and children, and we will awe at the wonders of Science™ and ask ourselves how we could have been so blinded by superstitious intuition. Science™ will free man from the darkness of intuition to finally see clearly that War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength.
When we believe and parrot nonsense just because an academic or scientist told us so and use important sounding words like “marginalization” or “de-centering”, then we have fallen prey to the cult of Scientism, where the counter-intuitive is almost always right, and all of our ancestors were racists, misogynistic, superstitious fools who believed in the traditions passed down to them by their forebears and the democracy of the dead.
Science, logic, and reason are useful tools for the manipulation of the set of objects and phenomena that are known and can be articulated. The set of objects and phenomena that are known is a subset of the totality of objects and phenomena that exist. Logically, this means that there is a set of objects and phenomena that are unknown. In order to survive, mankind must align himself with both the known and unknown sets of objects and phenomena. Inevitably, this means that man must use some faculty or process that is external to the domain of science, logic and reason, in order to align himself with the set of objects and phenomena which exist, but which remain unarticulated (unknown).
Intuition is the root faculty that man uses in the process of converting the unknown into the known. Intuition is a subconscious faculty, which is an area of consciousness below the level of language and which operates on sensation, image and emotion. The domain of this faculty can be articulated as the dream world, where the unknown is perceived, but not articulated. Mankind depends on his intuitive faculty and the expressions of the dream world to extend his perceptions from the known and articulated into the realm of the unknown and unarticulated.
Man can communicate knowledge of patterns of alignment with the unknown and unarticulated through the expression of the dream world, as myth and legend. Religions, myth, and legend are vessels which communicate intuition in the language of the subconscious, which can be easily absorbed by the unconscious faculty of others. Alternatively, one can begin with intuition and attempt to use the scientific method to launder testimony of error, bias and wishful thinking, and then transmit this knowledge through the conscious and articulated faculty, through science.
The process of scientific inquiry and communication is fraught with obstacles. The obstacles include: the near impossible task of laundering error, bias and wishful thinking from intuition; the difficulty of learning to properly manipulate and then master instruments; the monetary and time costs of confirming or disconfirming testimony; the incentives of self-interest to falsify testimony. We have mounting evidence which are dissolving confidence and trust in the forms and processes of scientific inquiry, as error and costs mount.
The scientific endeavor essentially hinges on trust, or faith, due to the high costs of confirming or disconfirming testimony. The public is blissfully unaware of the importance of trust in the process of the scientific endeavor and naïvely extends trust and faith to academia and the scientific community. This belief is known as Scientism, which functions as a religion, operating on faith and administered by the self-interested.
A central tenet of the religion of Scientism is that man suffers from an original sin: intuition. Scientism promises to cleanse man of this base animal faculty through the tireless hard work of Science™, if only he reject his intuition and submit himself to the revealed knowledge of Science™. Scientism teaches that intuition is the root cause of all conflict and strife, which leads him to believe in superstitious religions, myths and legends such as: that there are only two genders, race is real and it matters, that men and women are different, etc.
Religions are validated not by the scientific method, but by a much harsher and empirical standard: the Darwinian Filter. Scientism, as a new religion, will continually be tested against the Darwinian Filter. The price of adherence to a false religion, meaning one which cannot pass the Darwinian Filter, is death or genetic death.
We all operate on revealed knowledge. I remain skeptical of Science™ and its revealed knowledge, and the skepticism of the public is growing and errors produced by the academic and scientific community continue to mount. The living will get their chance to express, with their lives and the lives of their unborn children, which religions, myths and legends are best aligned with the deepest, unarticulated truths of nature and reality, but as for me, I’ll also be relying on Chesterton’s democracy of the dead.