Monday, 14 May 2012

Science Won't Save You


The latest phenomenon in popular science publishing is a group of books claiming that we shall be able to derive a system of ethics from the latest studies in evolutionary psychology, neuroscience and biology. In place of religious gurus, we now have scientific gurus who promise salvation to mankind.

Underlying all of this is the unquestioned assumption that life itself is good. This manifests itself in the phrase ‘evolutionary advantage’, which essentially means survival. To exist is to have an ‘advantage’. Our ancestors were ‘an evolutionary success’; other creatures were ‘failures’. ‘We’ adapted so as to be here. Of course, all of this ignores the fact that every creature must die, that ‘success’ in evolutionary adaptation simply means delaying death for a little while longer. 

Similarly, by speaking of ‘group advantage’ the notion of a common purpose and a solid ontological identity is reintroduced.  ‘We’ are going somewhere, ‘we’ are ‘heading in the right direction’.

As a result of the imposition of the language of agency, goal, and manipulation on the blind processes of biochemistry mankind can, under the guise of science, reassume its dream of purpose and progress. 

Yet all that can be derived from mechanistic materialism is that everything is but an amoral, mindless manifestation of matter and energy.

It appears that science, for all of its self-proclaimed ‘intergity’, ‘lack of bias’, ‘objectivity’, and 'clear-sightedness’ has become just one more vehicle in humanity’s desperate quest for meaning and purpose.

26 comments:

  1. I think you put everything about science pretty neatly here (in a comment to your Happy Atheists post)!
    For me the truly hilarious thing is that if you provisionally accept the first premise of happy atheists and religious people, the latter position is far stronger. The latter say: there's a god, he commands us, we are rewarded and saved. Makes sense within its own system. The former say: it's just matter in motion, with no meaning, morality or redemption, therefore it's great and wonderful, and what a fine time we're having. What a bunch of idiots.

    And a few days back, it occurred to me that we are now not afraid of rats, lizards, snakes, wolves, lions or whales. Even most kinds of pathogenic microorganisms can be finished off with our antibiotics.

    So isn't it obvious that humans now have a chiefly competitive and not cooperative relationship? So all this "group advantage" and "evolutionary advantage" is just codswallop.

    Of course, all of this ignores the fact that every creature must die, that ‘success’ in evolutionary adaptation simply means delaying death for a little while longer.
    Until after they've dropped spawn, each of which will also die -- "hopefully" having dropped more spawn in their lifespan.

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    1. Hey Srikant, how is it hangin? =)

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  2. Yes, all of this 'co-operation with the planet' and Gaia mush. The only reason people are talking about the 'environment' now is because they are afraid they won't be able to maintain their self-indulgent lifestyles at the rate things are going, nor will their spawn be able to enjoy it. After all, it appears to be a point of pride amongst procreators that their products 'enjoy a better quality of life' than they do. I guess they find a source of self-justification in such hokum. (Sorry for putting scare quotes around so many phrases here and in the post, by the way. I just find that so many terms and concepts of contemporary discourse are nothing but propaganda, and need to be treated with kid gloves.)

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    1. Yeah, so sad actually, it´s not even funny. They think they are fooling anyone with this sudden worry about the environment, when they are worried about only the borders where it touch them, and stop them to go around being waste mechanisms.

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  3. "I just find that so many terms and concepts of contemporary discourse are nothing but propaganda, and need to be treated with kid gloves"
    That's pretty damn accurate I'd say. No matter how much we try to keep science objective, some of the life-loving cult's 'self-evident truths' manage to slip in and ruin an otherwise mainly factual account of things as they are - not that it ruins in the sense that the theories no longer work, of course.

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  4. I wonder when humankind will see the truth for what it is...

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  5. science won't save you, that's sure. for all the talk of modern technology and scientific advances, nothing can be done for my condition (born disabled). i might just as well have been born thousands of years ago (or better....not born at all). i mean if i had to choose between being born in modern times or being born before modern science and medicine, i would choose to be born before (at least i would've been spared from invasive and unwanted medical procedures).

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    1. Hi, Anonymous. I find your last sentence particularly interesting. Most science-cheerleaders would be astounded by it, thus showing their lack of any real psychological insight or empathy. Hope you're finding tolerable at least!

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    2. Should read 'life tolerable'.

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  6. Agreed, the science is just another technology of "salvation". It seems that there is a segment of population who would not buy a religion, but will gladly buy science. Even if science delivers what was promised, such as a radical life extension, then what difference would it make? To make our short meaningless lives longer is to prolong the horror of existence.

    The 23rd

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  7. In large measure, science is knowing what bit you.

    It's a great world, huh? Fair.

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  8. One cannot reconcile with existence without illusions; illusion of value, meaning, importance, blind faith in instincts and emotions. Our delusive nature is a part of success as species. If all of our illusions were dispelled we would culminate with extinction.

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  9. 'Success'? Success is only a human concept generated by the satisfactions of human needs that need not have existed in the first place nor need perpetuating.

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  10. I am antinatalist Karl. I was just saying that unhappily our self-delusive nature confers an evolutionary advantage. I hope someday humankind will be able to overcome its illusions.

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    1. Sorry if the tone came across as hostile, anonymous. Whenever I see 'success' next to 'species', my hairs stand up:-)

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  11. I must admit, that raised my hackles too. I think from now on, if we need to put those two words in relative proximity to one another, we do something like this: success------------------------species ;) More space between them I say! Purpose and evolution, um I mean "purpose and ------------------------------------------------evolution", are another couple offenders, and a major pet peeve of mine. I swear they make my ears bleed.

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  12. Garrett, good to see you around, man. Couldn't agree more. Species success seems oxymoronic to me, not to mention just plain moronic. 'Purpose', 'Evolution', 'Progress', 'Success' definitely words to be treated like raditation.

    How are things with you in this Gnostic hellhole, buddy?

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  13. I know, right?

    Oh, things are OK for the moment. Spending some quality time with the "kids" (adopted dogs, cats and a noisy parrot) and generally making good use of my time away from work for the summer. How about yourself?

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  14. I'm ok, man, thanks. Coming up to my own summer break, where I hope to recharge and get some energy back. The thought of sitting in a peaceful garden soaking up the sun and banishing the world from my thoughts is an appetising one....

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  15. Karl, Paragraph 1: In principle, I just might be able to go along with this, at if they stick with the assumption that “pain and especially suffering is bad”. Even so, the only real solution to suffering I know of is to create robo-human as described in this post. If they can’t purge our survival instinct, our capacity to feel physical and emotional pain, and our capacity to have/generate desires of any kind, then suffering will forever be with us. All this assumes somebody or society won’t use TH technologies toward destructive ends (deliberate or unintentional) – a faith-based assumption at best.

    P2: Fully agreed here. Due to heat death / cosmic entropy, if nothing else, all successful “blood lines” will go extinct. Even assuming we do manage to cheat heat-death through some as-of-now-“magical” technology, there’s still the question of (a) what it matters that there exists an ever-happy forever-alive consciousness in the first place (b) whether non-life would suffer from the absence of this entity (ask the planet Mercury if you want an answer!), and (c) how a non-existent person is deprived by not having a guaranteed forever-happy existence (also, in this scenario, a forever-happy existent person wouldn’t feel sad because the could-have-been did not come into existence).

    P3 &P4: common purpose – in the end, our “common purpose” is to reach a state of “forever happiness” as described above (with all the difficulties that ensues). Short of overcoming or escaping fatal levels of entropy, well – our ultimate purpose is to just continue reproducing, and reproducing, and reproducing until there’s simply no more energy left to support life – then literally fade into the night.

    P5: Slightly disagree here. It does not hold true if there is neurological and/or sentient life present in the universe. Still, I grant that even in a universe lacking sentience in which nevertheless life’s emergence remains theoretically possible, it would still hold true that “pain and/or suffering, if it comes into existence, is bad” and “sentients should prevent bad things to the greatest extent possible and reasonable”. Still, this argument would be as hypothetical in that universe as our “red button” scenario is in our own universe until sentient life actually does actually emerge.

    P6: Science itself, properly conducted, does lack bias and all the other things you mention. It’s just that humans like to this objective tool to for their own ends (not always a bad thing if you keep cognizant of that fact, but that’s altogether a different issue from claiming it is going to save us from death and suffering forever and ever, Amen)

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    1. Thanks for the feedback, Filrabat. Re. para 5, what I meant to say was that the materialistic worldview posits that everything is derived from mindless, amoral energy etc.

      Ultimately, the only way to end suffering is to ensure no new life is created. It's hard to see any philosophical justification for disturbing nothingness, even with the aim of creating a perennially happy creature. I sometimes wonder if theologians have ever considered this.

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  16. You don't need a justification to do something.

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    1. Does that mean we ought be allowed to do things simply because we can? Should we cause trouble or hurt to others in that case?

      I wonder how shop owners would feel about kids throwing bricks through their window for fun just because they can. So yes, some things DO need a moral justification - unless morality itself is an illusion (which necessitates moral nihilism).

      That's just a relatively low-harm example

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    2. Anonymous, that is the mindset of a dangerous person.

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