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Scientism (wikipedia.org)
19 points by jorangreef on Sept 20, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 19 comments

And will you apply science to an angry mob burning US flags and killing because of a movie?

You have so called "social sciences", but they are pretty much useless otherwise there would be someone paying them a lots of money to figure out what will happen next for example in the Middle East.

Sciences are very limited once you get a human being with free will into the equation. And then you multiple that by culture than by genes then by experiences and then by 6 billion.

I love history. And the main reason for my love of history is love of science fiction. If Nazi Germany never happened, don't you think that the whole story would make amazing science-fiction? How you apply scientific method to history? You can analyze, but as soon as you do your results/opinions will be different than anybody else's at least at some level. It's not like we all know 2+2=4. Now try Why people voted for Hitler? Good luck with your fixed narrow-minded analytical mindset to figure this one out. You can have debates for years about it and still you won't know for sure anything. Science is for people who want the right answer right away. Life is more complex than that simplistic view.

> Science is for people who want the right answer right away. Life is more complex than that simplistic view.

A simplistic view is assuming that scientists (and for that matter geeks/math guys/programmers) see things in 0-s and 1-s, strictly defined terms, etc. Math and science are much better equipped to handle fuzziness and lack of precision than any kind of "common sense" or soft whatever. It's just the other way around - handwaving at things because they are fuzzy and complex is a simplistic thing. Approaching them with combined might of all the advances in understanding and technology is what scientists do (or at least should do).

These "sciences" are limited because they don't follow the scientific method. In the scientific method, only conclusions are accepted if they can be reproduced infinitely. The lines get blurred often because experiments cannot be conducted indefinitely. The media (or organizations) tend to skew the retest of experiments for their own agendas.

Hence why, for example, Economics is also not a science.

Did it happen? What does it mean? Our history is far more embarrassing/surprising/extraordinary than we like to admit. Which may be why we like to speak so much of science and so little of history. But history holds its own. Often it's not the happening of an event in history that we have difficulty with, but its meaning. Consider the historical accounts of Christ ("the King"). He happened, in history. We read the letters written by those who persecuted him, believed him, walked with him, saw him do the things he did, those who loved him and those who hated him. Did it happen? To the historian, of course. But to the common man, what does it mean? And there we grind to a halt... mistaking naturalism for science, unfamiliar with the nature of historical evidence, textual criticism, the death of form criticism, practicing historical revisionism, historical denial, conflating possibility with frequentism etc. But did it happen? If it happened, what does it mean?

The social sciences are to business as the hard sciences are to engineering. The theories of persuasion that came out of communications and social psychology departments revolutionized marketing. The Likert scale was developed by a psychologist, and is one of the foundations of all surveys.

Much of what we think about "big data" and applied statistics were pioneered in Sociology departments.

Anthropolology informed how businesses do intercultural communication. I know a professor who did a side project for a multinational about connotations based on color and imagery in their products and how a particular culture would relate.

And I know for a fact that the CIA hires out of regional studies departments. So yes, the government is paying people trained in the social sciences a lot of money to figure out what will "happen next" in the Middle East..

> You have so called "social sciences", but they are pretty much useless otherwise there would be someone paying them a lots of money to figure out what will happen next for example in the Middle East.

It doesn't follow from "nobody pays social scientists" that "social science is useless", if it were true there could be many reasons why nobody paid for research in the social sciences.

But in fact someone is paying them a lot of money for them to figure out what will happen next for example in the middle east, e.g.



> Sciences are very limited once you get a human being with free will into the equation. And then you multiple that by culture than by genes then by experiences and then by 6 billion.

Free will, if it exists, isn't the problem that the scientific method has when dealing with people. Any system as complex as a person has too many variables to be able to control in an experiment.

+1 Your existence will be cold, lonely, and meaningless if you only ever act on falsifiable information.

What do you propose as an alternative that addresses the deficiencies you identify here?

Obviously science is not the only way to find truths; there is also math.

Math can yield many truths. Science is how you determine whether or not a math truth corresponds to the universe we live in.

There is also William Faulkner.

"Michael Shermer ... defines scientism as a worldview that encompasses natural explanations, eschews supernatural and paranormal speculations, and embraces empiricism and reason."

I'd consider widespread adoption of that worldview to be the sign of a culturally advanced civilisation, and it's opposite to be the sign of a backwards one.

No, that's just naturalism, and there's nothing rational or advanced about it. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naturalism_(philosophy)

But in the definition I quoted, Michael Schermer defined scientism in part as embracing reason. There's nothing rational about embracing reason!?

Naturalism and the scientific method are not at all the same thing. Which is why it would be right to say that the definition quoted is an example of "scientism", a pejorative term, and not science.

Science is just the study of the natural world as we observe it. Naturalism precludes anything beyond the natural world, but does so on the basis of speculation, for we have no tools of reason with which to make such an assertion.

The tools of science and philosophy cannot be used to reach beyond the natural world. They were never intended for it. They are not suited for it. By definition, science would not presume to be interested in it, and philosophy would fail to grasp it.

From our side, we can't rationally say that the supernatural exists, and we can't rationally say that it doesn't.

Hence Carl Sagan:

"An atheist is someone who is certain that God does not exist, someone who has compelling evidence against the existence of God. I know of no such compelling evidence."

So we can be agnostics, but we can't be atheists, not rationally at least.

But while from our side, we can't reach out, that's not to say the supernatural, should it exist, can't reach out and reveal itself in a way that would make sense to us and give us a rational basis for belief, for instance if the supernatural were to collide with our natural world in an extraordinary event.

The tool to tackle this then would be history. As a Christian, I believe that the right place to start digging is the historical accounts of those who saw the life, death and resurrection of Christ, in history. Did it happen? What does it mean?

Relax, I just thought it was an ironic that some people think "You are enlightened!" is an insult.

There are several definitions for scientism in the article, they are all different, some are conflicting. My comment was about the definition in the quote, I know that science and naturalism are not the same thing.

Let me start by describing how the nervous system is structured in strata, with lower, "thalamic" nerve centres which are closer to the outside world, giving us sense impressions; and higher, "cortical" nerve centres which are further away from the outside world, and process the nerve currents coming from the lower nerve centres. It's a well known fact that it is the cortical nerve centres that are engaged when operating with languages (including scientific languages – physics, mathematics, etc.; and probably coding, too); however, because of this structuring of the nervous system, cortical products of abstraction are abstractions from the abstractions of the lower nerve centres – in other words, it is natural to begin with sense impressions (observations, facts, etc.) and proceed by producing generalisations, models, formulations, ideas. If, contrary to that, we assign primary importance to words and ideas, then, structurally, we are behaving similarly to people suffering from hallucinations, illusions and delusions, word salad, fanaticism, etc.

I hope not to be opposed by anyone if I suggest defining science as the investigation of empirical structures, with the purpose of formulating structurally-similar semantic representations using words and other symbols (laws, theories, generalizations, formulae, etc). We readily see how science is nothing else than the mature, appropriate behaviour of a healthy human nervous system. Fundamentally, scientists are preoccupied with sanity, really: day in, and day out, they spend their time co-ordinating ideas with facts. Their job, their contribution to society is adjustment to facts.

Now, if, for example, we would repeatedly find ourselves stumbling, we would turn to professional athletes for inspiration; it follows similarly that, for the sake of sanity and adjustment, the methods, conduct and results of scientists are of interest to us all.

The Wikipedia article doesn't really provide any clear, explicit, concise argument against the so-called "scientism". In my opinion, the article reflects the struggle of a curious group of people: people with an inflated sense of self-worth, fuelled by a gratuitous use of words ("logolatry" is the name for it, and it's always nice, btw, to discover that an ancestor summarised personal observations of mine with a single word!).

In any case, I trust that one can only retard the natural functioning of his, and others' nervous systems – never abolish it.

Does anyone have a response to this position with respect to modern economics? Specifically, when economists test their models, what are the control groups that they use?

None, because economists aren't big on testing, AFAIK, and empirical methods beyond meta-studies. It's still a very soft science, correct me if I'm wrong. Joke was that an economist that tests his hypothesis is a trader.

Econometrics and psycho-economics have just overturned the rational actor model that was the mainframe of classical economics. Maybe they'll add more empirical methods as well.

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