Tuesday, 24 November 2020

Education and Scientism

It is generally thought that education is an unadulterated good thing.  However, I have reservations.  It seems to me that one of the detractions of education, and specifically a scientific education, is that it indoctrinates people into passively accepting certain ideas about the world. Ideas that, strictly speaking, are philosophical rather than something science entails.  For example, that we are sophisticated biological robots with no free will. That colours, sounds and smells don't literally exist out there.  That psi, an afterlife, rain-dancing, magic spells, dowsing are all hooey etc (it's possible the last 3 are hooey, I have no idea).

Even if we are to suppose that they are correct on all these issues, I find it interesting that people can never argue to justify their certainty on any of them.  When I ask people the origin of their convictions they often content themselves with asserting that I only think such things are possible because I want them to be true  Of course, here they are assuming that their own beliefs are highly likely to be correct and the reason I do not consent to their beliefs is because my yearning for such things overrides my reason.  They do not take a blind bit of notice of my actual arguments.

I also often hear the mantra, "where's the evidence". By "evidence" it transpires they mean something repeatable in a lab and that anyone, even skeptics, can unerringly replicate. There appears to be no room in their worldview for spontaneous or capricious phenomena, nor where a certain psychological state is a crucial ingredient for the manifestation of the phenomenon of interest. 

The fundamental point is this, if people assert something doesn't exist, they need to provide reasons for their belief.  Not simply be content to say "prove me wrong".  But I do not think it is an exaggeration to say I never actually hear any valid arguments.  At best I am told that such phenomena, if they exist, are simply impossible, that it would break the laws of physics and even render the whole scientific enterprise as fundamentally wrong.  But, we need to understand that the so-called "laws" of physics are simply a mathematical description of the patterns we find in the world. What these people are doing is reifying such a description and demanding that reality dances to its tune. In other words, they're putting the cart before the horse. However, reality has no obligation to conform to what we regard as "physical laws". Physical laws are general -- we lack compelling reasons to believe our current "laws" describe reality in its totality. In particular, they leave out consciousness in their description of reality. (I cover this issue in greater depth herehere, here and here.)

I think it's the power of our culture imposing its belief system on educated people. People just soak up the beliefs of their culture and their peers.  We live in a scientism infatuated culture that fosters the view that physics provides a literal depiction of the ultimate nature of reality.  Hence, all the qualitative features of reality -- that is, colours, smells, sounds and of course conscious experience itself -- are relegated to either being illusory, or are deemed to be translatable, without remainder, into the interactions of the ultimate entities that physics describes.

This is unfortunate.  Ideally education should make people think. To question prevailing beliefs and "wisdom". Indeed, to be a sceptic in the original meaning of that word. There's precious few people who are rational intelligent independent thinkers. And I can't see that ever changing.


  1. "For example, that we are sophisticated biological robots with no free will."

    I have never had a science teacher suggest that.

    Yes, some scientists say similar things in online blogs or other online discussions. But do they actually say that in class?

    "That colours, sounds and smells don't literally exist out there."

    I have had teachers raise that question. But it was always as a question for thought and discussion. It was never presented as a statement of fact. And I don't think it came from a science teacher.

    1. Where do you imagine that these ideas come from then? You imagine that people would have thought exactly the same if they had been brought up in another time and place? That can't be so because people in medieval times would have thought you were insane to deny a God or an afterlife. No, it's our culture and the educational process that fosters this belief in materialism and all it entails. This is why the educated are much more likely to subscribe to materialism.

      Of course, teachers don't have to *explicitly* state that we are mere sophisticated biological robots etc. Undesirable consequences will be ignored! The point being that it directly follows from some materialistic metaphysic being true.

      Re colours and the like. Your experience at school differs from mine. I was taught that there are only wavelengths of light etc. Looks like you had the benefit of being taught philosophy!

    2. Well, sure, they get many ideas from the culture. I'm just puzzled that you want to blame the science teacher.

      Back when I was in elementary school, I learned that Santa Claus did not exist. That didn't come from a teacher. It came from other children at the same school. These days, the ideas that concern you are as likely to come from the Internet or from television or movies.

    3. It's news to me that I want to blame the science teacher. If anyone is to be blamed it's the professional scientists and philosophers. Although, of course, they might not be keen to rock the boat as it may have a negative impact on their reputations and careers.


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