New Scientia Salon collection: Scientistic Chronicles

Scientistic Chroniclesby Massimo Pigliucci

We are happy to announce the release of the first collection of essays published in the online magazine Scientia Salon to see the light, and there will hopefully be many more to follow. Scientia Salon is devoted to bringing both science and philosophy — as they are pursued by professionals — to a general public for broader understanding and appreciation.

What better way, then, to start our series of collected essays than with a volume on “scientism.” Depending on who you ask, the term refers either to a tendency of making science into an all-encompassing ideology (or at the very least to claim far more on its behalf than it can deliver), or to a most reasonable assessment of science as the only reliable source of knowledge. The sixteen contributions to this volume span a wide range of opinions about scientism, some directly addressing the use (or abuse) and understanding (or misunderstanding) of the term, some tackling instead a number of specific issues that often come up in discussions surrounding scientism.

Philosopher John Shook even spells out 26 different meanings of the term, ordered alphabetically. In a direct commentary on that essay, I discuss what I think are reasonable takes on each of the 26. Physicist Coel Hellier mounts a spirited defense of scientism, claiming that mathematics is actually a branch of science (as opposed to, say, being more akin to logic), while journalist Jim Baggott and physicist Peter Woit think that even some fields within fundamental physics barely qualify as science. On his part, philosopher Robert Nola distinguishes between scientism as claim, as a methodology, and as a type of epistemology (theory of knowledge).

Among the specific issues discussed, philosopher Jonathan Kaplan takes up the many misunderstandings (and abuses) of the concept of heritability, while I discuss in similar vein the concept of race and the infamous example of eugenics.

All of this, naturally, has a lot to do with the always tense relationship between science and philosophy (see my essay on science popularizer Neil deGrasse Tyson’s attitude about the latter), and with the very nature of science.

Regardless of your notions of science, philosophy, and scientism, our hope is that you will find the essays collected here to be informative, insightful, and stimulating. That, after all, is the way to better understanding.

“Scientistic Chronicles” has been made possible by the help of Peter D.O. Smith, who curated the formatting and graphical aspects of the volume. It is available for free download as e-pub, Kindle, or PDF version.


Massimo Pigliucci is a biologist and philosopher at the City University of New York. His main interests are in the philosophy of science and pseudoscience. He is the editor-in-chief of Scientia Salon, and his latest book (co-edited with Maarten Boudry) is Philosophy of Pseudoscience: Reconsidering the Demarcation Problem (Chicago Press).

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47 replies

  1. This is excellent! Two minor suggestions: 1) Author name in the TOC; 2) Date of publication at the top of the article (some articles reference current events).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you Mass for encouraging and maintaining this cogent and tempered dialogue within our diverse community. And to et al. This volume rocks!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is great. You’ve opened up a door into a whole new line of thought for me -or maybe numerous new lines of thought. Forever greatful.


  4. Excellent idea, to have collections according to a theme.

    May I cheekily point out that the most passionate advocate of scientism in this collection also speaks of the value of the position known as “supervenience physicalism” and uses the idea of the Quinean web for his belief system. I am currently researching which area of science developed those concepts.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Hi Massimo,

    So apparently you continued working for us on holiday? I do hope this didn’t get you into much trouble! The following concerns “Just the Facts.”

    Your case 1 argument against Nate Silver’s complaints about modern opinion journalism, does seem reasonable to me.

    I must agree that case 2’s “big data will save us” position seems laughable. (Of course I commonly argue that better theory in the field of ethics will bring a grand revolution, and who doesn’t consider this laughable?)

    As for case 3, I do sympathize with the educator’s plight, though I also believe that the current system mandates little more. To truly fix things I think we must progressively transform public (or “communist”) schooling, for private. Nevertheless these would be government funded capitalistic systems, with a society deciding which kids receive the most public funding. Unlike today, educators should then have great economic incentive to do their jobs well.


  6. Robin, your cheeky comments are right to the point. Please forward any papers you find 🙂 His energetic presence in this philosophy forum makes your point for you. Mind you, after many tussles, I have come to admire his unequalled tenacity in the face of so much criticism. I have also come to see him as important to the discussion because 1) he provokes dissent which fires up the discussion and 2) he stimulates us to examine more carefully the whole question. I certainly have learnt a great deal from this process.

    The real question in my mind is the usefulness of such a strong commitment to scientism. This is no ordinary commitment. It has a passionate intensity and conviction that resembles ideological fervour. What motivates it? Does it have a useful function? We have never examined this question in Scientia Salon and yet I think it might be a more important question than the validity of scientism, which is what has occupied our attention until now.

    So what motivates them?
    1. Triumphalism. The writings of scientismists are redolent with triumphalism. There is a bandwagon effect where many people instinctively support what they think is the winning team and derive emotional satisfaction from being on what they think is the winning side. This is typical tribal behaviour. The danger of tribal behaviour is that it swamps rationality.

    2. Militant atheism. It is remarkable fact that the strongest supporters of scientism are also militant atheists. They seem to believe that scientism displaces the need for God. It may or may not but it is the misuse of science to pursue such an agenda.

    Is a scientism ideology useful?
    Supporters might argue
    1. Passion is the driving force behind great advances.
    2. It mobilises society to support science.
    3. It encourages rational thinking about the problems of society.
    4. And science is the engine of the productivity that has advanced our species.
    5. It is true and we should passionately follow truth.

    Opponents might argue
    1. It lacks a moral component and yet our most important problems are moral in nature.
    2. It lacks any concern for aesthetics and yet aesthetics lie at the heart of our enjoyment of life.
    3. It is imbalanced. While science deserves investment there are many other areas of life that deserve even more investment of time and resources.
    4. It is not rational thinking but blinkered thinking that is blind to the richness of human experience.
    5. It is not true.There are other truths that cannot be defined by science.
    6. Misdirected passion is harmful to society.

    With that I lay down the challenge to scientismists. Can you show that your ideology has
    1) an admirable motivation
    and more importantly
    2) has a useful function.

    It is not enough to show that science is useful, we already know that, and not one of us would question that proposition. The question is whether the commitment to scientism is useful rather than harmful.

    This seems to me to be the most important discussion we can have and it is the one issue that was not covered in what is otherwise a most admirable collection of essays.


  7. Hi Robin,

    I am currently researching which area of science developed those concepts.

    The area of science is, of course, the philosophy of science!

    But I commend your looking into the origin of these concepts, and would be interested in the results.

    “Supervenience physicalism” was clearly espoused by Huxley back in the 1870s, who applied it to the human mind (Descartes had earlier applied it to “brute” animals which he regarded as non-conscious, but had rejected applying it to humans).

    Applied to non-biological stuff, “supervenience physicalism” (aka the atomic theory of matter) had been standard in science from around 1800. Back then, of course, the “natural philosophers” are not as distinguished from “philosophers” as they are today.

    The Quinean web evolved out of Neurath’s Raft and other prior concepts. Again, the basic idea can be seen in Huxley’s writings on science in the 1870s.

    If we judge scientists from that time by de facto practice, they weren’t basing science on unquestionable axioms, but were proceeding on the pragmatic basis that they could question any and every “axiom”, and could do so by using the rest of their knowledge to bear on the matter (which is the basic idea of the Quinean web).

    Thus, by the end of the 1800s, the “natural philosophers” (who had been newly christened “scientists” by Whewell) had invented “the scientific method” (to use a short-hand) based pragmatically on what worked, and that included notions now referred to as supervenience physicalism and the Quinean web.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Coel,

    “The area of science is, of course, the philosophy of science!”

    Seriously, this simply shows the extreme extent of your ideological commitment. Philosophy of science is most definitely NOT an area of science. Moreover, the idea of a web of knowledge came out of epistemology, not philosophy of science…

    Liked by 3 people

  9. One takeaway from these essays:

    One can be both pro-physicalism (“everything is physical. In other words, everything supervenes on, or is necessitated by, the physical” — including mathematics) and anti-scientism (it is not that case that the language[s] of physical scientists works for everything).

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Hi Massimo,

    Seriously, this simply shows the extreme extent of your ideological commitment.

    OK, guilty as charged, but …

    Philosophy of science is most definitely NOT an area of science. Moreover, the idea of a web of knowledge came out of epistemology, not philosophy of science . . .

    “Epistemology” is Greek for “study of knowledge” and “philosophy of science” is (roughly) Latin for “study of knowledge”. I don’t see a difference. I also don’t see any areas of “knowledge” as outside “science”, and thus the study of knowledge/science is itself a science.

    I’m guessing, though, that you’d want “science” to refer to only a subset of “knowledge”, and would use “scientia” to refer to the whole. I really don’t understand these demarcations about knowledge. Let me illustrate that by quoting Aravis from the previous thread:

    I should also say that this sort of disambiguation and revealing of common category errors, committed both by scientists and “ordinary folk,” are precisely what philosophy should be about. That’s what it means to say that its function is primarily critical. And this is what makes it entirely different from science, whose purpose is to advance our knowledge of the world.

    Which leaves me wondering, in what way is uncovering and identifying errors in concepts not a contribution to “advanc[ing] our knowledge of the world”?

    The only way to attempt a demarcation is to narrow down “science” by stripping out all the concepts and the thinking about them, leaving it as the mere accumulation of empirical data. But that is also untenable, given that all empirical data-collection is theory-laden.

    Thus I see no demarcation that makes any sense; I see no “other way of knowing”, in addition to science, that actually works. Nor have I ever seen a good argument for why some area of actual knowledge is “not science”; most attempts at that are based on erroneous ideas about science.

    Hi labnut,

    I lay down the challenge to scientismists. Can you show that your ideology has
    1) an admirable motivation
    and more importantly
    2) has a useful function.

    Admirable motivation: wanting to understand the world; in particular, wanting to properly understand those very important things often labelled “not science”.

    Useful function: Ditto, properly understanding all the things often labelled “not science”.

    Specific example (carefully chosen as of particular interest to yourself!): we can only properly understand human morals and ethics from a scientific perspective, and — to quote yourself — “our most important problems are moral in nature”.

    Seriously, morality is of such importance to us that there is a vast volume of commentary about it, and yet so much of that commentary is entirely misconceived. Why? Because it is treated as a compartmentalised topic of it’s own, distinct from other areas of knowledge. This has real practical consequences. Knowledge-compartmentalisation has to be one of the worst ideas ever! Hence the motivation for “scientism”.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Coel, to say that I’m baffled is to put it mildly. Forgive me, but you sound like a caricature of scientimist.

    ““Epistemology” is Greek for “study of knowledge” and “philosophy of science” is (roughly) Latin for “study of knowledge”. I don’t see a difference.”

    Well, perhaps instead of looking things up in a dictionary you may want to read a couple of papers in epistemology and philosophy of science. It ought to be obvious, then, why they are distinct from each other, and why neither has much to do with science. And by the latter term I mean what most people mean by it, you know, biology, physics, astronomy…

    “I really don’t understand these demarcations about knowledge.”

    Right. I don’t see a sharp distinction between neurosurgery and dentistry, but that doesn’t mean I’m willing to trust my brain to a dentist…

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Coel,
    Admirable motivation: wanting to understand the world

    That is a generic goal that all inquiring people share. This is true of academics in history, biology, archaeology, cosmology, literature,… name any field you wish. They all wish to better understand their part of the world. I fail to understand how this goal makes scientism in any way different or more special. It still does not answer my basic question. Why are scientismists motivated by this almost messianic fervour? People in academia are in general motivated, eager and curious but this does not lead them to stake out claims on other disciplines. Instead they turn their enthusiastic motivation to driving the work in their own discipline. Scientismists go well beyond this with their overarching claims. Why should they do this? Your explanation does not account for their behaviour. I suggest there is a hidden and less savoury motive that you do not wish to confront. What lends weight to this conclusion is the simple observation that scientism is empty and contributes nothing, beyond support functions, outside the traditional fields of science. As a Texan would say, big hat and no cattle.

    Useful function: Ditto, properly understanding all the things often labelled “not science”

    I would begin to believe your claim if this was in fact what happened. As I said above, big hat and no cattle The record is very clear on this. Science, in its natural domain is effective but has contributed little outside its natural domain of traditional science beyond supportive functions.

    This brings to mind our long running debate about whether science answers moral questions/solves moral problems. You never could produce any evidence of this.

    I am trying to understand why it is that you do not see something which is so apparent and obvious to others. I suggest there are three reasons.
    1. You are strongly motivated to define the world in such a way that it excludes the possibility of God and you believe that scientism does this. The strength of your motivation is such that:
    2. You fail to appreciate the foundational importance of distinctions. You tend to conflate neighbouring ideas and treat them as though they belonged to the same category. Our ability to perceive finer and finer distinctions, assigning them to different categories, is an essential tool in our intellectual armoury. Thus you cannot see the distinction between science and philosophy of science
    3. You fail to appreciate the importance of specialisation. One of the foundational reasons for the rapid advance of our culture is the increasing degree of specialisation. Specialisation is needed to master the intricacies of a field. The days of gentlemen, generalist scientists or academics are over. For example, a cosmologist has no chance of doing the job of an evolutionary biologist without extensive retraining. Not many are able to retread themselves in this way. Massimo is one of the few exceptions. In the same way an astronomer has nothing useful to contribute to the discussion of the historicity of Jesus because his tools and training have no bearing on the subject.


  13. Labnut: I agree in the specialization aspect in terms of skills but no reason why an educated person trained in one science field cannot understand the knowledge and skills of the other field. If you don’t have a high enough curiosity level to understand another person’s specialty, then I question that persons sincere efforts in their own field. At one time scholars in the church were the only people who could read and understand science.

    Massimo: The volume is great reading so far. Excellent writing and compilation of topics. Solid work as usual.

    With my background in science, religion, engineering and some philosophy, I can subscribe to the scientism only because most great efforts go through their dark period where it is darkest before the dawn. The philosophy of mind is still an open frontier so I am optimistic about the unity of knowledge.

    Reading the Neil De Grasse Tyson essay I was struck by not his rejection of philosophy but his dismissive tone or ‘dissing’ of philosophy. Interestingly he is a raised New Yorker and that attitude is very characteristic……Just listen to Trump’s ‘dissing’ of Sen John McCain’s military service.


  14. Coel wrote:

    I also don’t see any areas of “knowledge” as outside “science”, and thus the study of knowledge/science is itself a science.


    It’s precisely the lack of conversational progress, reflected in this statment, plus the apparent willingness of people to go round and round in circles that is the reason why I barely participate in discussion, here, anymore. I’ve tried to get back into the discussion, recently, but now, seeing this, have decided to get back out again.

    By progress, I mean a process in which the back and forth of argument actually progresses the conversation, in the sense of advancing it. But what happens here is that arguments are simply ignored and the initial statements are simply repeated, dogmatically, over and over again, to the point that those on the other side simply resign from exhaustion and frustration. Apparently — incredibly — readers don’t seem to mind hearing the same statement made thousands of times, regardless of what is said in response to it, which is why, for the umpteenth time, we are back right at square one, arguing whether *everything* is science.

    I know that Jarnauga has stopped participating for this reason, as he and I have discussed it privately, and I am sure there are others. It seems to me that this should be a matter for moderation policy, but unfortunately, my pleas to the Editors have not borne the sort of fruit I would have liked to see.

    I now return you to your depressingly predictable programming.


  15. If we judge scientists from that time by de facto practice, they weren’t basing science on unquestionable axioms, but were proceeding on the pragmatic basis that they could question any and every “axiom”, and could do so by using the rest of their knowledge to bear on the matter (which is the basic idea of the Quinean web).

    I am not sure how you would test that claim, I can’t see that scientists, in general, are any less conservative about challenging axioms than any other group except maybe theologians, and even they have their moments.

    The idea that we should question any and every axiom and proceed on a pragmatic basis originates from the philosophers of ancient Greece and Rome, an idea that didn’t just come from one school of philosophy either. It was a large and important contribution from that period to the history of ideas. You can find the principle ‘don’t just accept an axiom, question it’ in Plato and certainly Hume never met an axiom he didn’t question.

    I am not sure there was ever a philosopher, mathematician or scientist who regarded axioms as unquestionable.

    You are correct that Quine’s ‘Web’ is influenced by the philosopher Otto Neurath’s ideas, not just the ‘Ship of Theseus’ analogy but on his closely argued position about the linguistic nature of science in ‘Physicalism’ (which was a statement on behalf of the Vienna Circle as a whole). You can see echoes of this in Quine’s insistence on replacing vague statements about belief with statements about language.

    Quine, in turn, was influenced by Wittgenstein and Russell (he makes this explicit at the beginning of ‘Physicalism’. We can trace the ideas of this movement back to Hume, Kant and even Berkeley (A J Ayer made this influence explicit). And of course the Vienna Circle originally took it’s lead from the philosophical writings of the physicist Ernst Mach.

    Naturally all of this was a collaboration of scientists, mathematicians and philosophers, but to call this a branch of science would be as absurd as me calling science a branch of applied mathematics.

    And, yes, the philosophy of science was always about studying the nature of science from the practice of working scientists, nobody ever suggested otherwise, indeed this has been explicit all along as far as I know (Comte, for one, made it explicit)..

    The set of tools we call the ‘scientific method’ has been a work in progress for thousands of years and is still a dynamic concept. I am not sure that there was anything special about the end of the 19th century in this respect.

    I would also note that Thomas Huxley went to the trouble of coining a new word ‘agnostic’ to describe his position, I think we should respect that. He was part of an established tradition of philosophical Naturalism which included d’Holbach and Diderot. If he could be considered a prototype for any version of physicalism it would, more likely, be identity physicalism.


  16. Aravis is correct. I have largely bowed out of commenting precisely because of the reasons he articulated, viz.:

    “By progress, I mean a process in which the back and forth of argument actually progresses the conversation, in the sense of advancing it. But what happens here is that arguments are simply ignored and the initial statements are simply repeated, dogmatically, over and over again, to the point that those on the other side simply resign from exhaustion and frustration. Apparently — incredibly — readers don’t seem to mind hearing the same statement made thousands of times, regardless of what is said in response to it, which is why, for the umpteenth time, we are back right at square one, arguing whether *everything* is science.”

    Maybe this is unduly curt, but life’s too short to have the same argument over and over again, unless maybe one is angling for a Stoic Commendation for Patience™. Not being a Stoic, I could ask the scientismists to do everyone a solid and actually listen to people like Massimo and Aravis, but that would be wishful thinking.


  17. Well, practicing Stoicism I guess I have a higher degree of tolerance for repetition by scientimists… To be fair, though, this is a thread on scientism, so one would expect Coel to make the same arguments he made as a contributor to the book.

    That said, we may institute a bit of a moratorium on this topic, including in comments, for a little bit. We’d like to talk about other things, and we’d also like a broader group of readers to contribute to the discussion.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. Errr… mistype – that should read “Neurath, in turn, was influenced by Wittgenstein and Russell”. Undoubtedly Quine was too, but he didn’t write the essay ‘Physicalism’.


  19. Well, the subject of the eBook in question is Scientism, so we might expect it to be discussed in the comments.

    To answer Aravis, I am, in a way, more fascinated by the process than the subject matter. I often find myself immune to evidence against a cherished position and even when I am aware of it I continue doing it for a while.

    I have felt lately that I should not bother any more. It is not so much the repetition, it is this:

    Suppose I make the statement that “minimum information required to specify” is not a good measure of the complexity of a program because it cannot distinguish between a long random sequence of trivial arithmetic operations and, say, a finite element analysis on the fuselage of an Airbus

    I would expect respondents to at least consider that I am right about that (and I am, I think, right about that). I would expect any disagreement with that to be technically informed.

    But having made a statement like that I find instead that it is denied out of hand with no good reason by someone whose expertise is clearly not in that area.

    Here is the thing. We discuss fairly complex topics here and ask questions that don’t necessarily have easy answers. If I cannot even state a fairly simple matter of mathematical fact as a tiny part of the general discussion, then what chance do we ever have of progressing anything non-trivial?

    Now obviously what I say does not apply to everyone here, but it does represent part of the noise that makes it difficult to have meaningful discussions.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. I fear that I may have sounded ungrateful. The book is fantastic, and the fact that it is offered free is more than generous. Thank you Massimo (and Peter, aka Labnut).

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Massimo wrote: “the idea of a web of knowledge came out of epistemology, not philosophy of science”

    Ever heard of Pierre Duhem?


  22. First, let me apologize for the over-reaching of my last comment on the previous thread. (Dantip says there’s no embarrassment in it; but if I speak imprecisely, I feel embarrassed by it.) I wrote that semiotics ‘disproves’ Chomsky’s theory of a genetic origin of language, and that is not precise, and as imprecise untrue.

    I also wrote that Wittgenstein was re-introducing semiotics into Analytic philosophy, and that’s imprecise as well, although not entirely untrue; Wittgenstein was not interested in any ‘theory of semiotic’ (or any systematization), but his thought was very much in the ballpark of recognizing signification – rather than conceptualization or ‘truth’ – as fundamental to human communication and understanding.

    I wrote that comment so poorly, because I was tired; I was edgy, because I had just decided to put my own blog on hold while I sorted out some thoughts; and because I was frustrated. Holding onto certain ideas that had already been exploded, depending on any science to resolve what are clearly purely philosophical problems, just drives me up the wall.

    Beyond offering apologies for the sloppiness of that comment, I bring the matter up here because an underlying theme of some comments here has been a frustration similar to that I was feeling when I wrote that post. There are discussions I want to have – and discussions I simply want to pay attention to, to learn from – that get occluded here. Part of this is probably inevitable – the intersection of science and philosophy is a grey area, but it is surprisingly narrow. It simply doesn’t include aesthetics or literature or history (broadly speaking); it could include sociology (and we need more articles from the social sciences), but it doesn’t include (phenomenology based) social theory (which includes important forms of psychology, psycho-therapy, social critique).

    But some of this problem arises from having to tread through comments that are uninformed and needlessly combative. I don’t claim I haven’t slipped up here, I suspect we all have; but I well understand Aravis’ point about the lack of conversational progress. For instance: Talk about a ‘Quinean web of knowledge’ is only interesting from someone who evidences a reading of Quine. Otherwise, it is just shallow appropriation for the purpose of propagandizing. And that gets so tiresome, that one wonders, why don’t I just read a blog on Marvel superheros instead?

    I would actually love to read commentary from someone who has read Quine – “stuffy old Quine,” as one of my professors liked to refer to him – because he is both an engaging – and an exasperating – thinker, who sometimes comes across as something of an academic who just knew how to play the game.

    Instead, we get his name waved like a flag. That is not interesting.

    We need to tolerate the excesses of others, admitting that we are all prone to excess; but we should check ourselves for the excesses to which we are prone. Are we here to converse? or to proselytize?

    The latter is not interesting.

    Liked by 3 people

  23. I would very much hope for tempers to cool. Is the purpose of Scientia Salon to present the public with thought provoking discussions for the philosophically minded? Of course it is! It surely isn’t meant as a safe haven for philosophers to feel good about themselves, complete with shows of “scientismists flogging”! (Nevertheless if we consider comments for last September’s Mark English article -, as well as a follow up discussion-, unfortunately this might indeed be argued.)

    I require a forum to express my (admittedly extreme) ideas, without being shunned as “Philosopher hater!” I don’t know if Coel’s main goal here is to anger others (and doubt it), though I do know that I’m here in order to receive intelligent feedback from interested parties.

    As for the general subject at hand, I actually see no good reason worry about what philosophy IS, what science IS, and so on. These are simply humanly concocted terms, and each of us is quite free to define and use them in any manner that we choose to. Regardless of a classification that someone happens to identify with (or be derisively labeled), why can’t we just take the wonderful discussions presented here, and then argue the merits of our various positions? If we are indeed 1) intelligent and 2) reasonably objective, then 3) the best arguments should prevail as we move along — and regardless of the various associations that these arguments might have. Otherwise this does imply a need to work on the three just mentioned elements to our approach. Rather than point fingers, I suggest we work on these!


  24. Aravis, Jarnauga,
    I waved the red flag and encouraged the conversation. After reading your comments I feel rather guilty. Both of you are especially valuable contributors and your loss would be deeply felt. I really, really hope that you don’t go away.

    I have twice before stomped off in anger and despair, only to come back again. I did so because I think Massimo is doing something valuable that deserves to be supported. I did so because his Stoic attitude got through to me(I do sometimes learn from others 🙂 ). I did so because I felt that Massimo was conducting us on a grand intellectual tour and I felt it was really worthwhile staying on the bus. This intellectual tour fascinates me though I understand it would not have the same interest for you because you are skilled professionals in the subject areas. But as skilled professionals you could add a lot of value to this intellectual tour.

    Turning now to what happened in this discussion. Yes, the same predictable arguments came up and it seems there was no progress. That is because I think we have been talking about the wrong things. We need to recognise that scientism, as a basic attitude, has infected society. Why is that? What is its appeal? Can this be harmful to society? What motivates the passion of scientismists?

    I think these are new and important questions that need to be discussed and that is why I tried to provoke this discussion. You might think that is unwise, misdirected, uninteresting or just plain unimportant and apparently you do.

    Next, I have come to realise that an oppositional, contrarian figure helps to provoke the discussion. I observed that it was forcing people to think more about their position and sharpening their arguments. I know I was forced more than ever before to think about why I held certain beliefs. That must be a good thing. I also recognise that, as professionals, you have clarified your thoughts long before.

    Finally, I have substantially shifted my position on the conduct of argumentation. Once again this was Massimo’s Stoic influence. I have realised there is no need to win the argument or have the last word. It is enough to carefully develop an argument and state it clearly. The thoughtful observers will recognise this. Those who do not recognise this were never going to be persuaded anyway. Some of you will chortle and think it was about time I adopted this attitude. I admit it.

    This intellectual tour bus needs the support of clear thinking, insightful professionals like yourselves. You could develop the arguments in new and exciting directions while ignoring the old, stale arguments. This is what we need and I really, really hope this is what you will do.


  25. Hal,

    “Ever heard of Pierre Duhem?”

    I always find it amusing when people suggest that a professional philosopher of science hasn’t heard of a basic figure or idea in his area of expertise. Yes, I’ve heard of Pierre Duhem. His point was distinct from Quine, which is why their combined objections to falsificationism are correctly referred to as the Duhem-Quine theses (plural). Duhem argued that there cannot be such a thing as a crucial experiment, because one is not only test whatever focal hypotheses of interest, but also always testing a number of ancillary assumptions, concerning calculations, instrumentations, other theories connected with the focal one, and so forth. Quine dramatically expanded this notion to the full web of knowledge (his phrase), which includes not just empirical science, but even math and logic. Did I pass the test? Cheers.

    Liked by 2 people

  26. Labnut, you aren’t guilty of anything, and I am not stomping off. I am involved with the magazine, after all. I am simply explaining why I do not participate as much as I used to.

    Some articles simply are on subjects that I do not have sufficient expertise — or any — to discuss in an intelligent, productive fashion, so I simply listen rather than talk. (I’m funny that way) But in some cases, it is because it is clear that the conversation is not progressing or advancing — that people are either not listening or are refusing to consider and to take on board what is being said to them by those who *do* have substantial expertise. I not only find this uncivil, but a complete waste of time. And rather than continue to bang my head against such folks, I prefer to step out.

    Yes, of course I expect people to talk about scientism, in a discussion thread about a book on scientism. What I don’t expect is for that conversation to register not one single point of advancement over the last fifteen times we’ve talked about scientism; to be debating exactly the same proposition that we debated the first of the fifteen times, and every time thereafter, as if all the counter-conversation had never happened.

    That’s what I mean by a conversation failing to progress. It’s not a matter of “tempers”, but of how philosophical — and for that matter, any — discourse should be conducted.

    Liked by 2 people

  27. Hi Massimo,

    Coel, to say that I’m baffled is to put it mildly.

    Scientism is a claim about epistemology. The issue is whether the range and diversity of epistemological styles over all of knowledge is much greater than the range and diversity of epistemological styles within the traditionally-defined sciences.

    If yes, then it would be natural to regard “science” as a subset of the ensemble and call the ensemble something else (“scientia”). If no (the scientistic claim), then it would be arbitrary to exclude any topic from “science” and arbitrary whether we call the ensemble “science” or “scientia”.

    It ought to be obvious […] why neither [epistemology nor philosophy of science] has much to do with science. And by the latter term I mean what most people mean by it, you know, biology, physics, astronomy . . .

    So by biology, physics and astronomy we mean knowledge of the natural world. Yet knowledge is useless and not even knowledge without an assessment of how reliable that knowledge is. By definition the latter is epistemology. If you strip out epistemology from science then you turn it into stamp-collecting, leaving it with no way of assessing whether any of the things it is saying have any reliability or validity at all. That’s not science as I understand it.

    Further, if one accepts Duhem-Quine and the Quinean Web (which everyone should!) then it is in-principle impossible to disentangle the science from the epistemology. They are inextricably linked.

    The above reasons are why I adopt a unity-of-knowledge stance. Yes, I fully grant that there are big differences in style and expertise in different areas of knowledge. But that is not argument against the above scientistic ideas, since there are already big differences within science.

    For example, take the difference between a paper on chimpanzee politics by a primatologist and a paper on the Big Bang by a theoretical physicist. The latter two would look more disparate than, say, a scientific paper on quantum mechanics and a philosophy-of-science paper related to quantum mechanics. Grouping the former two while refusing to group the latter two is just arbitrary.

    Dear All,

    Can I point out that the discussion of scientism in this thread was started by Robin, not by me, and that labnut has written as many words on the topic as I have. As I see it, all I’ve done is reply to remarks clearly directed at me. If people don’t want the topic of scientism discussed as much then there are others to address your point to as much as me.

    If you prefer to discuss other things, then go right ahead, no-one’s stopping you. Just ignore the comments you’re not interested in.

    It also seems to me that “advancing the conversation” is code for “agreeing with me”. People think I’m ignoring arguments made many times; I think people are ignoring counter-arguments made many times. C’est la vie. Human minds are like supertankers, it takes a lot (often years) to turn them around.

    Liked by 2 people

  28. Wasn’t Quine’s phrase ‘web of belief’?

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  29. (One last jab at scientism.) A topologist. epistemologist, chemist, biologist, astrophysicist, particle physicist, category theorist, philosopher of science, algebraist, programming language theorist, painter, metaphysician, cosmologist, logician, combinatorialist, social scientist, dancer, moral philosopher, political scientist, geologist, linguist, historian, geometer, … each has their own favorite collection of domain-specific (overlapping, intertranslatable. or intercompilable to varying degrees) languages and practices, with no one language and practice manual to rule them all.

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  30. While I haven’t had the chance to read the book, I would like to offer an observation about the subject, in that while I much agree with the general premise of “scientism,” in as Coel states is a clear examination of all topics, it has been my experience that in practice the profession does tend to become as hidebound and dogmatic as many other practices.

    If I may offer a few examples from my own personal observation, the biggest complaint would be the mathematical universe hypothesis, in that these structures are somehow more than just a rough mapping device of the static aspects of reality. For instance, infinity and equilibrium are not physical properties and so are often dismissed. Along with the idea that the geometry of dimensionality is the basis of space and not just a mapping device used to describe it. We live in this truly immense void, aka space and based on some modeling drawn from various tautologies of measures, such as between distance and duration, along with a number of gigantic physical patches, such as inflation and dark energy, presume to know much of the history of the entire universe.

    When I try to make very simple points, such as it is a fallacy to say space expands and yet still have a stable speed of light against which to compare this expansion, the fanboys of this belief system cannot show me where I’m wrong, but insist I must be. Along with a number of other issues I’ve raised here before and therefore won’t repeat.

    So while skepticism and objectivity are brandished like battle-axes, it does seem there are issues within the inner sanctum that are not subject to the same degree of examination.


  31. It has long been an intuition of mine that we are all both scientists and philosophers, of the ‘folk’ kind. We all are also ‘folk’ economists, artists, musicians, writers, caregivers, etc. Now, in my old age, I have come to the preliminary conclusion that science is fundamental to all human understanding. With some satisfaction I recently came across this statement in Wikipedia under Theory-theory:

    “Beginning in the mid-1980s, several influential developmental psychologists began advocating the theory theory: the view that humans learn through a process of theory revision closely resembling the way scientists propose and revise theories. Children observe the world, and in doing so, gather data about the world’s true structure. As more data accumulates, children can revise their naive theories accordingly. Children can also use these theories about the world’s causal structure to make predictions, and possibly even test them out. This concept is described as the ‘Child Scientist’ theory, proposing that a series of personal scientific revolutions are required for the development of theories about the outside world, including the social world.”

    I would humbly suggest that the professionals in various fields be more generous to their competitors, in the same or different discipline. We are all really here to learn from each other and revise our own theories, as necessary.

    Progress should be measured by the extent to which we learn and not by the extent to which there is change in the positions of others. The latter events should be rare and would not usually be accompanied by fanfare.

    Liked by 4 people

  32. As Mark says, the title is “Web of Belief”, written by Quine and Ulliard. Quine was under the impression that he was a philosopher, doing philosophy and he apparently did not think his thesis was in any way incompatible with science and philosophy being different, although obviously intertwined, disciplines. As I pointed out their acknowledged influences were people like Neurath, Schlick and Wittgenstein who were also under the impression that they were philosophers, as did their earlier sources such as Hume, Kant, Berkeley. We could then go on to their sources.

    If philosophy of science is a branch of science and “Web of Belief” is part of the philosophy of science the, as I was trying to establish earlier, was Quine in fact a scientist doing science? Was Wittgenstein a scientist doing science?

    It seems vastly simpler to me to just accept that there has been this activity going on in the world for thousands of years which we call philosophy, and there has also been this activity going on which we call science and that they are separate, although intertwined, disciplines.

    I also consider knowledge to be a unity (although it is also a challengeable axiom). I fail to see, however, the incompatibility between the idea that there is a unity of knowledge and that science and philosophy are separate, intertwined disciplines. Yes epistemology and science are inextricably linked but how does that mandate that one must be a branch of the other? Physics and biology are inextricably linked but physics is not a branch of biology nor vice versa.

    With the “Web of Belief”, those two words in the title seem to highlight the problem with the thesis. (That is “web” and “belief”, I have no problem with “of”).

    I don’t know about you lot but I have this brain which, more often than not, goes ahead and believes stuff without asking my permission. Some beliefs it will hold on to like a dog with a bone.

    So organising this with a loose metaphor like a web or a ship seems to be reckless to the extreme. Quine and Ulliard never quite explain how we can avoid it being the case that evidence is organised around our beliefs instead of vice versa.

    I am neither a scientist nor philosopher, I am just a layman and yet I have to sort what is and what is not the case using the various tools and resources available to me. I call this process, not science, but ‘reasoning’.

    Personally I like to make a distinction between what I believe and what I can demonstrate, in some way, to be the case. I will make my own categorisation of the various tools and resources available to me to do this. I do not think that there is really a fact of the matter about this categorisation.

    As I have pointed out before, if we call this whole process ‘science’ we just have to find a new word for what we used to call science.

    Liked by 2 people

  33. I don’t really feel qualified enough to weigh into this debate right now, but based on EJ’s comment, and the discussion in the prior thread I thought EJ and Aravis would both be interested in a current book I am reading. It deals with conceptual metaphors from a pragmatist perspective (EJ), and I thought the aesthetics aspect would interest Aravis although I expect he is already familiar with the work.

    Johnson, Mark (2012-06-29). The Meaning of the Body: Aesthetics of Human Understanding . University of Chicago Press

    I understanding if lacks enough relevance to the current topic to be posted. Posting here since the other thread closed.

    Liked by 1 person

  34. Hi Coel,

    I certainly do support your position in general, or that if all aspects of reality have causal relations between each other, then using two separate classifications from which to effectively explore reality (with their own specialties to preside over) should naturally be problematic. Indeed, wherever these “two realities” inevitably meet, the exploration of one should naturally be hindered without without cooperation and progress from the other.

    If this were the whole story, however, then I doubt that you’d raise the defenses of so many here. Why not let philosophers consider themselves “critics of science,” and thus “non scientists,” if this is indeed how they’d like to be classified? My only issue is that they should also then forfeit the aspects of reality which traditionally fall under the “philosophy” heading, permitting scientists freely take them up. (Obviously certain philosophers would just change their title to “scientist.”)

    Above you said:

    Further, if one accepts Duhem-Quine and the Quinean Web (which everyone should!) then it is in-principle impossible to disentangle the science from the epistemology. They are inextricably linked.

    Words like “impossible” and “inextricably linked” should not only turn people off, but validly so! “Science” need not include anything beyond what this humanly fabricated term, is defined to include. A far more defensible statement might be, “I believe that it would be useful for us to include the field of ‘epistemology’ under the heading of ‘science’.”

    I will be surprised if this book provides good reason to have one essential classification from which to explore the basic dynamics of reality, (which I believe is so that related fields can more effectively build from each other). As for John Shook’s A-Z in this regard, thumbing through it made me cringe. I’ll surely agree with Massimo!

    Should we really include math, or a language which helps facilitate science, under the classification of science? By that logic, “English” might just as well be included. No I do not support this. Furthermore if philosophy is indeed to be the critical overseer of science and such, then I’d be far more happy placing study in the languages of math and English under this critical sort of discipline. Titles don’t bother as long as the work does still get done.

    The book does seem quite interesting to me however, so I’ll get to it just as soon as I can!


  35. Speaking of Quine’s web of knowledge (or belief), there has always been that one main thing about it that kept bothering me, and Robin Herbert has succinctly formulated it above:

    Quine and Ulliard never quite explain how we can avoid it being the case that evidence is organised around our beliefs instead of vice versa.

    I understand Quine’s web as the interplay between various branches of knowledge supporting and reinforcing each other, both theoretically and experimentally. But delusions can also be self-reinforcing (i.e. madman’s logic can be sound). In addition, any “hard data” we have about the world at some level requires theoretical interpretation (or delusional interpretation) in order to connect the web to the real world.

    In other words, if one substitutes the words like “knowledge”, “theory” and such with the word “delusion” everywhere in the arguments regarding Quine’s web, all arguments seem to remain equally valid, as far as I can see.

    But I’m not an expert on Quine (and Ulliard), so I might be wrong. So my question for experts is this: is there some nice clear-cut argument that explains how web-of-knowlege is fundamentally different from web-of-delusions? Or is it actually called web-of-beliefs precisely because no such distinction can be established?

    Btw, this problem is the reason why I always opt for formal logical systems as foundation for knowledge, as opposed to the web. Self-reinforcement of the web is essentially circular logic, and its presence opens the door to false claims being reinforced by each other as much as true claims do. So I don’t know how to distinguish delusion from knowledge in such a context. In contrast, a formal system is explicitly constructed to avoid circular logic, and therefore doesn’t suffer from this problem.

    Liked by 1 person

  36. One of the problems I find with this knowledge/belief as a web and presumably unified, is that issue of perspective being inherently subjective and we do need framing devices that can never be fully objective (though some assume extreme abstraction and reductionism to be) and when we try to assemble a larger frame, either there has to be innumerable loose ends, which defeats the purpose, or we end up with some form of C.S. Escher stairway, where all the parts seem to connect, but the larger view lacks essential objectivity. The self contained universe of the Big Bang theory would be a prime example.

    The nature of thought is that it is static and sequential, which create problems for knowledge of a reality that is dynamic and dominated by feedback.


  37. The collection is great, but I am sadly disappointed that it contains no contributions from comments! Even just one or two of the excellent apothegms that have fallen from our many lips.

    And, there is too little on “nice” scientism that plays well with others, as opposed to the “excessive belief in the power of scientific knowledge and techniques” type of scientism. I like the Lalonde definition (which I’m sure I quoted previously) as “the idea that the spirit and the methods of science should be extended to all walks of intellectual and moral life without exception” if knowledge is to advance. This appears spread across several of the A-Z’s that John Shook and Massimo address, but often as a straw man. For example in Q, where Massimo brings up a “Friendship Augmentation Committee” rather than real life examples like eHarmony and “the 29 dimensions of compatibility for long lasting relationships”. The latter is a humanistic scientism at work, and its successes and failures will be measurable empirically, by measuring subjective satisfaction some years down the track. Maybe the 29 dimensions are actually 29 virtues, but measured by the power of science – after all Eysenck identified the 4 quadrants of Extraversion and Neuroticism with the four classical humours 😉

    Liked by 3 people

  38. David,

    I thought about including a selection of comments, several of which are often just as valuable as the main contribution. But frankly, that was just going to be too much work, and we have very limited resources at Scientia Salon. That said, presumably an interested reader could look up a chapter s/he particularly liked on the site and read the comments.

    Liked by 1 person

  39. Marko,

    While I largely agree with what you say, isn’t formal logic circular as well?
    Isn’t the essence of circulatory 1=1?
    In which case, 1+1=2 would be a more dynamic circularity, in that the act of adding 1 to 1 results in a set of 2, being composed of 2 separate units?
    So then would E=mc2, as an expression of relativism, also be another circularity of equivalence?
    Energy=mass plus volume, so mass=energy plus vacuum, i.e. gravity.
    Which is not to knock formal logic, but to examine the degree to which reality is fundamentally circular.
    What would be the alternative, except absolute statements and the absolute would not be descriptive, as it wouldn’t be relational to anything else. 0=0
    All of reality would balance out to equilibrium and thus be absolute, yet to describe any aspect of it, you need a point of reference or frame that is relational to the rest of reality, but this consequently creates the bias inherent to that point of reference or frame.
    It would seem the act of reason creates consequences.


  40. I.

    With the issue raised and explored in previous comments, I hope the editors will allow the following brief (and woefully incomplete) critique:

    I admit difficulties getting through the whole of Quine/Ullian’s “Web of Belief.” First, it is a surreptitious attempt at systematic philosophy, which is odd from Analytic philosophers. As such, it is shot through with subtle misadventures that the authors frequently try to back-track and resolve by doubling down without adequate resolution.

    First, the historic context: It ‘s written when the cultural movements of the 1960s have re-introduced irrationality into public discourse, from resurrecting Fundamentalist Christianity to promotion of ‘New Age’ pseudo-science. So we should expect Quine/Ullian to provide a good account of the serviceability of rationality in the public domain. Unfortunately, this doesn’t quite come off.

    A few problems:

    1. Kierkegaard: The decision to target Kierkegaard as representative of the acceptance of faith in the absurd, is misguided. K. himself is quite aware of the difficulties of faith given an existence that was itself somehow absurd, since its ground could not be properly ascertained. Q/U trivialize K. in a manner suspiciously like propping up a strawman.

    2. History: Q/U seem aware of the fact that the study of history involves severe epistemological problems, the tentative resolution to which does involve a certain amount of faith concerning the evidence, and concerning those professionally trained to research and judge the evidence. Uncomfortable with this, they occasionally raise the issue only to drop it without proper discussion. “What manner of thing is this believed thing-that Hannibal crossed the Alps?” they ask – but never answer. Because they know they cannot answer it simpliciter as they can with the belief that Neptune is a planet. Thus history gets implicitly relegated to the realm of belief that is not justifiable as knowledge. There’s something unsettling about this: history is a narrative on which we rely for coherence of our experience. Are Q/U really suggesting that much of what we take to be knowledge is really ungrounded belief that we simply have to live with in order to continue our social living? I suspect they are.

    3. “Truth is a property of sentences; it is the trait shared equally by all that would be rightly affirmed. And knowledge, in its clearest sense, is what we have of those truths if our beliefs are solidly enough grounded.”

    This has long been an article of faith in the Positivist/Analytic tradition. Unfortunately, it’s just and only that – an article of faith. We see this because the principle cannot account for differing definitions of the two terms, but only reject them out of hand. It cannot even account for ‘knowing how’ rather than ‘that,’ since ‘knowing how’ is evidenced in the practice, not in the utterance.

    4. Rhetoric: like most philosophers, Q/U probably distrust rhetoric (the word never appears in their text), and show little understanding of it. Thus their discussion of persuasion is impoverished and uninformed.


  41. II.

    5. Lack of believable context: The ignorance of rhetoric evidenced in the text reveals the fact that the social context Q/U finally get around to addressing is unrealistic and lacking in nuance (which is inevitable from the Positivist/Analytic tradition, going back to the presumption of middle-class values and ‘common sense’ evidenced in Russell and Ayers). Q/U begin with a believable criticism of the culture of their day, but by the time they get around to suggesting ways to deal with politics and education in a reasonable way, they have committed themselves to anemic, flaccid representations of a culture of already reasonable voters with largely shared values, which is hardly the America Quine was living in at the time, and has even less to do with the culture in which we live today.

    6. The skeptic’s socius: Consider their murder mystery, with three suspects, Abbot, Babbit, and Cabot. The first thing to note is that we are not presented with the case itself, merely the asserted problem of whether to trust the alibis of A, B, or C. Without having the facts of the case, this is actually a false dilemma. Q/U reveal this by discovering that the weakest alibi proves the strongest through the discovery of video evidence. They proceed to unravel the dilemma according to the degrees of trust-worthiness of the alibis. Unfortunately, this provides no resolution: “On the meager data before us, the most reasonable course would seem to be to rest with this indecisive outcome pending further findings.” Just what a clever defense attorney would hope the jury would say.

    The political implications should be obvious. We are surrounded by a media that only partially informs us, and by politicians relying on this partiality to work their rhetorical spells on us. The general implication of the Quine/Ullian murder mystery is that the best thing to do would be – don’t vote, form no opinion. But this is not satisfying in a society with democratic aspirations.

    “But Emily may merely believe and not know that the mayor is corrupt, corrupt though he is; for Emily has read only the innuendoes of the rival candidate.” But the clause “corrupt though he is,” could easily be written “though he’s *not* corrupt,” and the implication of the sentence would be the same – Emily will vote based on ill-informed belief rather than knowledge; or she will not vote at all. (BTW, the phrasing of the clause reveals a certain cynicism concerning politics, no?)

    What saves Quine/Ullian from being a rather haughty display of bourgeois, skeptically-based cynicism about the social, is Quine’s reliance on Pragmatist valuation of the possibility of social change, and on Skinnerian Behaviorism, with its optimism that we can learn to control our responses in a rational way.

    “The Web of Belief” is an important text, and not without its virtues. However, I have here tried to point out that it’s also not without its flaws.


  42. Good job John Wilkes with your “Information is the New Aristotelianism (and Dawkins is a hylomorphist).” The only sad thing here might be that we even need such demonstrations — apparently some believe that our pathetic models of reality, happen to actually exist as such reality! I do hope that the scientistically minded (such as myself) aren’t prone to such beliefs.

    Massimo I did enjoy your eugenics piece. I suppose that I’m not as worried as you are about nightmare scenarios of “DNA valids and invalids” taking place, or at least not in America. In this country I’d expect quick government action to heavily regulate such movement — the public would demand it! Beyond your mentioned fears perhaps many would be horrified to think that they personally might be judged “inferior.” Certain countries should have few such qualms however, and thus they might institute policies to become more “beautiful,” “smart,” “healthy,” and so on. I also wonder if we Americans would then punish them for doing so?

    My true problem with this entire issue however, is that it provides extra ammunition for those who’d like the field of ethics to not achieve its own generally accepted understandings of reality. This topic permits them to quite validly claim “If ethicists ever do gain their own generally accepted ‘good/bad’ answer, then what’s to stop ‘eugenic’ sorts of social engineering on the basis of their premise?”


  43. Hi Robin,

    … was Quine in fact a scientist doing science?

    It’s simply not an interesting question once you accept (as you have) that the topics are intertwinned. Biochemists don’t bother asking whether they’re doing chemistry or biology. If “science” is defined as “trying to know about and understand world around us” then, yes, Quine was contributing to that enterprise.

    If you prefer to define science as “trying to know about and understand some aspects of the world around us, while ignoring other intertwinned aspects”, then ok, but that seems perverse to me, and is it really worth making a fuss over whether one uses the word “science” or “scentia” for the whole?

    If you want to understand physics, and have an assessment of the quality of the understanding, then you need maths and logic and epistemology as well as physics. All are wrapped up in the Quinean Web, and the scientific method is to compare the whole Web (including maths, logic and epistemology) against reality, and then adjust the Web, then compare again, and keep iterating. Leaving an essential part out of “science” is as perverse as leaving gravity out of physics.

    Yes I know that these aren’t the traditional labels, but science is about adapting human concepts to nature, not about insisting on usages because they’re historical.

    Hi Marko,

    … is there some nice clear-cut argument that explains how web-of-knowlege is fundamentally different from web-of-delusions?

    No there isn’t. There is no simple trick for distinguishing delusions from truths. That’s why, for example, we use double-blind medical trials, to do the best we can. But there is no guarantee of certainity, as with anything in science.

    Hi Aravis,

    … that people are either not listening or are refusing to consider and to take on board what is being said to them …

    You discount the possibility of listening, considering and then disagreeing. One should not underestimate the extent to which intelligent people of goodwill can simply see the world rather differently.

    Hi Robin,

    … it cannot distinguish between a long random sequence of trivial arithmetic operations …

    If this is what you meant on the previous thread then it wasn’t clear. But:

    A random sequence is not complex because it can be generated by a concise algorithm (“pick a digit at random; repeat N times”). Similarly, I could write a concise algorithm which generated a sequence meeting the specification: “long random sequence of trivial arithmetic operations”. There is no concise algorithm that could generate a sequence that emulates human behaviour.

    Hi brodix,

    When I try to make very simple points, such as it is a fallacy to say space expands and yet still have a stable speed of light … the fanboys of this belief system cannot show me where I’m wrong …

    I can’t say why you’re wrong because I completely fail to see why you think there is any fallacy. Why can’t space expand and the speed of light be constant?

    Liked by 2 people

  44. ej winner:

    Agreed on the Web of Belief. A much more useful — and shorter — articulation of the thesis occurs at the end of Quine’s paper, “Two Dogmas of Empiricism.”

    Liked by 1 person

  45. Coel,

    The premise is that cosmic redshift is caused by the recession of distant galaxies, as light takes increasingly longer to pass between them. This means the speed of light is determined by some other factor than the amount of space between galaxies and if it is not space, since space is supposedly expanding, what is the basis of the constant speed of light?

    Einstein said, “Space is what you measure with a ruler.” And the ruler for intergalactic space is determined by the speed of light.

    In fact, this is assumed, by the way the issue is constructed, that space is defined by the speed of light, as it is being assumed that the speed of light is the denominator and the distance between galaxies is the numerator.

    If it was being assumed that the space between galaxies was the denominator, then the issue would be, ‘why is light taking longer to cross this space.’ So it would be a issue of “tired light.”

    Way back in the early days, as this cosmology was coalescing, it was discovered that there is little to no lateral motion to match the recession/redshift, which created the impression that we are at the center of the universe and so it was then argued that space itself, based on “spacetime,” was expanding and so every point would appear as the center. This completely overlooks the fact that the premise of “spacetime” is that in an accelerating frame, BOTH distance shrinks and time dilates, resulting in measures of light speed remaining Constant!!! Yet if it takes light longer to cross that space between galaxies, in order to redshift, it is not Constant to that space!

    Now if redshift were an optical effect, then we would appear at the center, because we are at the center of our view of the universe.

    I am reading the book, but seem to be using my allotted posts up, but I do think it is very important to question factors that seem to be grandfathered into the scientistic canon.


  46. brodix,

    First, in your exposition you seem to misunderstand several crucial points. The red-shift is not caused by *time* spent traveling, as you seem to imply when you say: “Yet if it takes light longer to cross that space between galaxies, in order to redshift, …”.

    Second, it is not true that: “the ruler for intergalactic space is determined by the speed of light”. Actually, cosmological distances are measured using the inverse-square law, and are thus determined by the geometry of space, not by the speed of light.

    Third, I have no idea what you mean by redshift being “an optical effect”.

    For such reasons, I still can’t work out from your comment why you think that there is some fallacy in the standard models.

    But, more basically, the current cosmological models are based on (a) expanding space, and (b) a constant speed of light. Using that, such models are hugely successful at explaining features such as the fluctuations in the Cosmic Microwave Background, and, further, have had good predictive success in predicting features only later confirmed observationally. (See the second plot here for the current match of models to data.)

    Now, if you have some other model in which the speed of light is not constant, or space not expanding, then you’re welcome to calculate what your ideas predict for the CMB fluctuations and compare it with the standard model. If you can, try to predict more subtle features that the next-generation satellites will reveal. If you are the most successful at such predictions, people will take notice. After all, doing better should be really easy if the standard models all contain some big fallacy, right?

    If, though, your model can’t explain the CMB fluctuations, well that’s the reason that cosmologists prefer theirs. As for a constant speed of light while space is expanding being, in your opinion, “fallacious”, well, if that’s how nature is, then that’s how nature is. If you don’t like nature behaving that way, feel free to complain to nature. If, instead, you think you have a better model of nature, feel free to present it.

    Finally, regarding your repeated claims that cosmologists don’t examine these things, and are missing something obvious, you (and many others who make similar claims about science) miss that the whole reward system in science is based on over-turning old ideas and going beyond them. You can’t even publish in a scientific journal unless you’re saying something that has not been said before. Thinking through the standard models, looking for flaws, and scheming up improvements, is exactly what theoretical physicists spend their lives doing.

    Liked by 1 person

  47. Coel,

    Presumably the redshift is due to the doppler effect of the wave spectrum being stretched as the source moves away from the receiver, i.e. recession. What is the frame in which this recession occurs? If the frame itself were expanding, then there would be nothing to compare it to.

    You seem to agree there is a stable speed of light that is distinct from this expansion of space, so what is the basis of it? The “vacuum” is in what light travels at a constant rate, so what is this vacuum that is a stable dimension, while the “space,” based on the redshifted spectrum of the same intergalactic light, is expanding?

    So when they say a galaxy is x billion lightyears away, they are just making it up?

    An example of redshift as an optical effect:

    The models have had predictive success, but the predictive failures have been papered over with enormous fudge factors, such as inflation and dark energy. How can a theory be falsified, if every time there is a mismatch between theory and observation, it is patched with whatever most closely matches the gap? How did that work with epicycles?

    The CMBR is presumably left over from the earliest stages of the universe and consequently appears to be radiating from the edges of the visible universe, as that is closest to this initial stage. Yet if redshift is caused by an optical effect and not physical expansion from a point, then it would create a horizon line for visible light and radiation from beyond that would be shifted off the visible spectrum and so possibly the CMBR is the solution to Olber’s paradox, light of ever more distant sources. Which would explain the faint irregularities in it.

    My first intuition that it doesn’t add up in any conventional manner was learning that this expansion is balanced by gravity. Now gravity is presumably the contraction of space and is very focused in galaxies, while this expansion occurs between them. So if what is expanding between galaxies, is balanced and thus canceled by what is contracting into them, why would the universe as a whole expand? Given that mass is contracting inward and radiation is expanding outward, could there be some cosmic convection cycle? It would tie up a lot of loose ends.

    The light from distant galaxies has to travel through and between the intervening ones. While the light passing through galaxies is magnified/lensed, could the light traveling through the emptiest areas have an opposite lensing effect? Such that if space is curved inward near galaxies and the effect on light is to magnify it, if the space between galaxies is then effectively curved outward, how would it affect the light passing through?

    If this effect compounds, it would explain why the rate of redshift increases proportional to distance. An upward curvature in that rate would explain the effect attributed to dark energy.

    Examining the motivations of a field like this would require a lot of both psychology and history, but having followed it for going on forty years, there have been significant political, sociological and generational factors and now there is as much or more professional commitment to BBT, as to string theory or super symmetry.

    This is my last post, so I would like to close by reiterating that this current model has had significant predictive failures and the profession allowed them to sink without a trace and erected massive theoretical forces of nature over the holes. Inflation violates the speed of light, while dark energy is supposed to amount to three times all other mass and energy, yet its only evidence is this hole in the theory.


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