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  MINDSET: FAITH-BASED ORTHODOX SCIENCE

Title: Mindset: Faith-Based Orthodox Science
Author: David J Larkin
  It could be argued that there is not an objective test for truth, indeed, that truth knows no measure.
Keywords: Mindset, Orthodoxy, Science
Created: May, 2013

•As a community we may justifiably claim to be more technologically sophisticated than our forebears. Indeed, we may claim, consequently, to be more informed, or in the casual vernacular, consequently, to be more knowledgeable. But are we more enlightened? Notwithstanding the rhetorical, we are not smarter than our forebears. Arguably, we are constrained by the same intellectual limitations; notably, limitations of perception, analytic aptitude, reasoning, imagination and creativity, and judgement.

Moreover, given the problematic nature of proof, as distinct from the less problematic claim to believe, the claim to know is tenuous. And the collective memory? Well history's lesson is, too often, soon forgotten or conveniently revised.

Furthermore, since we are susceptible to the same basis and modes of belief conditioning we are no more amenable to or accepting of difference. As a community, we are similarly constrained by a predisposition to arrogance, and prejudice. In particular, we are commensurately, and often ignorantly, intolerant of dissent: political, social, religious, and philosophical.

—‡—

It could be argued that there is not an objective test for truth, indeed, that truth knows no measure. This predicament is exacerbated by the limited utility of deduction, and the compounding limitations of evidence and inductive analysis; the consequence of which is ubiquitous uncertainty.

And what respite from this uncertainty is offered by the scientific method? A hallmark of the scientific method is repeatability. However, is it possible for a fool to repeat the same foolish steps, over and over again, and obtain the same foolish outcome each time?

Mathematics is a thing of beauty and great utility; like fire it is a wonderful servant, but in the hands of the unwary, it can be an insidious master.

Arguably, mathematics can model any system regardless of whether that system is real or imaginary. Furthermore, mathematics can model both a theoretical disposition and its converse. Consequently, while a model (a formulaic representation) may be considered to be elegant or, importantly, to be of practical utility it (the model) would not be characterized as either true or false.

Mere representation of a notion in a natural language, such as English, Chinese, or German, does not render the notion true, verified, confirmed, or correct. Nor does the representation of a notion in a formal language, such as mathematics, render the notion as true, verified, confirmed, or correct. The representation is simply consistent with the notion or, similarly, the theory is simply consistent with the evidence. But many different representations can be consistent with a particular notion, as indeed, many different theories can be consistent with the evidence.

Therefore, given the problematic nature of issues such as truth, proof or verification, and (perhaps) consistency, one might argue that the inherent objective of many a theoretical treatise, heuristic fiction, or if preferred, paradigmatic rationalisation, is (or should be) the realisation of simplicity, coherence, utility, and extensibility.

Simplicity: a concise, intuitive, intellectually accessible conceptual-foundation capable
    of explicating the observed complexity within nature.
Coherence: lucid, and self consistent.
Utility: of practical and theoretical import. And,
Extensibility: a comprehensive scope consistent with observation, extendible, and predictive.

Nevertheless, given that different theories can be consistent with the evidence, and given that, to varying degree, such theories adequately satisfy the above objective, how are we to choose between such competing constructs or competing descriptions and explanations?

Unfortunately consensus opinion, as an arbitration strategy, is itself rather problematic. The veracity of a proposition is not determined by the number of people, esteemed or otherwise, that support that particular proposition, nor indeed, is it determined by how long the proposition has received that support. Analysis of the historical record indicates that often (and significantly) the historical-consensus was neither an adequate indicator of what was nor of what came to be.

Consensus is not an adequate substitute for proof and consensus offers no respite from uncertainty. In many instances, the consensus opinion was subsequently exposed as merely collective ignorance, or collective prejudice, or indeed, collective anxiety. Indeed, the cynic could be excused for regarding consensus as simply a metaphor for a conspiracy of ignorance, or perhaps, mob rule.

Disturbingly however, what consensus can be is both a purveyor of mindset and an intolerant defender of orthodoxy.

—‡—

Orthodoxy, or faith-based orthodox science, has a proclivity for processes that reinforce the mindset. An insidious consequence of mindset, accompanied by an aversion to dissent, is that the institutions of orthodoxy are predisposed to inculcate the accepted or received wisdom, traditions, and prejudices consistent with that mindset. Or given the oft-used reference to the church of science, one might suggest that preachers preach what preachers ought, and what ought to be taught is predetermined. [1]

But surely the progress of science is ultimately measured by both the growing body of supporting evidence for a theory, and the corresponding advances in technology? As previously stated, many different theories can be consistent with the evidence. And indeed, competing theories can give rise to technological advance. It can be argued that the interpretation of the growing body of evidence advanced in support of orthodox theory is indistinguishable from a compounding, burgeoning body of rationalisation; a sentiment supported by the historical record and overlooked or ignored by the apologists of orthodox science: the theorists, the initiated, and their ever-vigilant, often insidious, gatekeepers and propagandists (editors and media commentators). [2]

Of course the scripture of science is a not immune to change. In the absence of revolution, orthodoxy will accommodate change that, figuratively, alters the syntax but not the semantics.

Orthodoxy, or faith-based orthodox science, has both a public and a private persona. The private treatment of dissidents, including insiders, can include being ignored, cursorily and condescendingly dismissed, threatened with a denial or withdrawal of research opportunities or funds, ostracised, spitefully vilified, assaulted, and inflicted with physical violence. (Too often, the behaviour of orthodoxy could be aptly characterised as an engagement in tribal-like warfare over the spoils of aid (tenure, and research grants), and a perverse defence of ego.)

In the quest for enlightenment, all too often, revilement precedes revelation.

The public persona is less overt, more insidious, with its highly-selective dismissive analyses, smug self-satisfied condescension, and its engagement in misrepresentation in order to sanction censorship; accompanied by the ranting of dilettantes and the lay all too eager to engage in their mindless defence of orthodoxy, occasionally vilifying, but more usually, mocking the dissenter. It would appear that only cranks challenge orthodoxy.

Copernicus and Galileo were dissident theorists. And if not for the fact that they were regarded as heretics, they would almost certainly have been regarded as cranks. The contemporary dissident should be grateful that the Church of Science does not enjoy the authority and malevolent power of the Catholic Church of the Inquisition; though the administered intellectual- and social-isolation is just as effective and just as insidious.

So how does one choose between competing theories? To appropriate (or misappropriate) Feyerabend, one might argue that "anything goes", whereas, it would seem, that with respect to challenging orthodox opinion "nothing goes". [3] The solution starts with the recognition that the history of ideas, metaphorically, traverses a well-trodden path through the graveyard of great ideas and fallen heroes, and proceeds with the acknowledgement of our intellectual limitations, and our propensity for intolerance. It starts with the acknowledgment that "we could be wrong": inclusively.

—‡—

When required to explain an error in judgment, a scientist, in order to allay concerns, will often retort that, after all, science is self-correcting. Well how long must we wait? The Ptolemaic astronomical system persisted for centuries. And it is now over one-hundred years since Einstein published his article on the theory of special relativity; not to mention quantum mechanical theory's approaching centenary. (Both complicated theories founded upon the "near mystical".)

In the introduction to The Absolute Present I wrote:

More than an intuitive nonsense, Einstein's Theory of Special Relativity, it would seem, legitimised a century of stupidity. A stupidity typified by schizophrenic, ghosting, time dependent, self-replicating, psychic 'god-like' particles; singularities; space-time warps and imaginary time. If sensibility is to be restored, then Science must exorcise the spooks, God-rationalists, and writers of science fiction that riddle modern theoretical physics. [4]

I wrote that passage hoping to initiate, or provoke, a debate that had been sadly (all but) absent since the associated theory was first disseminated some five years earlier. I was extremely naive to think that orthodoxy cared. (Moreover, the narrow-mindedness and intolerance encountered was a revelation.) Nevertheless, the longer this intolerance and cursory, condescending dismissal persists the greater the long-term damage will be to the credibility of science. (One might also consider, with respect to the poor behaviour of orthodoxy's protagonists, the absence of integrity.)

I readily acknowledge the possibility that Composite Particle Theory (CPT) may be flawed. But in the absence of "open, frank, and civil discussion", I am none the wiser.

NOTES (click the list-number for any additional link)
1. Or if preferred, "teachers teach what teachers were taught".
2. In 2012 and 2013, Large Hadron Collider (CERN) experiments identified particles with specific characteristics (in particular, mass of an anticipated value) that, it was argued, "tentatively confirmed" the existence of the Higg's boson. It can be argued that the findings were consistent with orthodox theory. It can, also, be argued that the essential (non-theory laden) findings were consistent with Composite Particle Theory (CPT). Notwithstanding that the evidence is consistent with both theories, one or both accounts of the evidence may be mere (compounding) rationalisation.
3. Feyerabend, Paul 1978, Against Method: Outline of an Anarchistic Theory of Knowledge, Verso: London.
4. Larkin, David 2000, The Absolute Present, David J Larkin: Melbourne.
 
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