Search Results for scientism
Scientism has two meanings. One is the almost religious belief that science may eventually understand and solve all natural and human problems. This kind of scientism has also been called “scientific fundamentalism.”
The second meaning refers to the partial or deceptive use of methods generally recognized as scientific.
Indeed, there are situations where people actively deceive and try to appear scientific for some kind of personal, economic or political gain. For examples of this see Betrayers of the Truth: Fraud and Deceit in the Hall of Science by W. Broad and N. Wade (1982).
Also related to the second meaning, a specious argument may be given a scientific gloss so as to seem legitimate. We find this in so many TV ads where professional actors wear white lab coats, trying to look like authoritative scientists or doctors while selling products ranging from automobiles to toothpaste.
Likewise, statistics may be disproportionally represented in bloated or extended bar graphs to make results look more significant than they really are, another common advertising trick that could rightly be called scientism.
Because the entire definition of science is problematic, one could say that the idea of scientism, itself, is also fraught with difficulty.
» Advertising, Athleticism, Chance, Marx, Politics, Power, Religion, Science, Szasz (Thomas)
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The idea of chance has several meanings. For this entry I’ll be focusing on the belief that things just happen with no rhyme or reason—that is, that some events are impossible to predict and also have no overriding cause or meaning. While this definition combines several hair-splitting philosophical views,¹ it does seem to capture the general mood of what we mean by the idea of chance.
While some seem to see the idea of chance as the logical answer in view of certain observations, it’s not. It is nothing more than a human concept. And to attribute something to chance implies a basic assumption that can’t be proved—namely, that some events randomly occur with no overriding plan, purpose or meaning. This belief can arise when people are faced with large amounts of data too vast to discern an overriding plan and purpose (as with the various data encountered in daily life).
Some statisticians, of course, would reply that the belief in an overriding purpose cannot be proved either.
My point is that the one commonality among the belief in chance and the belief in a divine or cosmic plan is belief itself.
Many religious persons freely admit that they believe. They may claim that their beliefs are supported (but not proved by) experience combined with reason. But rarely will a sincerely religious person claim to know, and if they do, upon further questioning they’d probably admit that their supposed “knowledge” is really belief, or reason to believe.²
On the other hand, some superficial and, perhaps, a few duplicitous scientists claim that their hypotheses – proposed explanations tied into a particular approach – are “proved” by observation and reason. This isn’t really true science but many scientists and lay persons fall into this kind of believing without admitting it, or even knowing that they’re just fooling themselves (and usually others).³
Again, the bottom line in this discussion of chance is that both religious and scientific viewpoints appear to be premised on belief.
² Granted, there are always fanatics who claim to “know” and cannot (or don’t want to) momentarily step aside from their beliefs.
³ This being one definition of scientism.
- Christian physicist Ian Hutchinson criticizes scientism (whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com)
- Scientism Investigation continued…4 (ubcgcu.org)
- Jerry Fodor’s Idiosyncratic Understanding of ‘Scientism’ (maverickphilosopher.typepad.com)
- Alternative to Scientism…Point 2 (ubcgcu.org)
- What is Scientism? (maverickphilosopher.typepad.com)
- What is Left for Philosophy to Do? (maverickphilosopher.typepad.com)
- help, i sound like my mother!…the power of our subconscious beliefs (rhubarbandstars.com)
- Scientism Investigation continued…3 (ubcgcu.org)
- A Difference In Beliefs. (euphoricobsession.wordpress.com)
Traditionally, the term discourse was applied to any kind of serious treatise or homily that was used for educational or pastoral purposes. A good example of the older usage of discourse can be found in Rene Descartes’ Discourse on the Method (1637).¹
But with the rise of postmodernism, the idea of discourse underwent something of a revolution. Instead of representing the “last word” on a given topic, discourses now became socially relative truth claims. And rather than being perceived as originating from some great authority on high, to be received by a passive audience, the new idea of discourse is far more intersubjective. That is, in the grand scheme of things, one truth claim is about as good as another.
The poststructuralist thinker Michel Foucault popularized the idea of discourse as an essentially political utterance. The key for Foucault is that discourse (as relative instead of absolute truth) always occurs within a relational matrix of social power. For Foucault, a given discourse actually creates a specific truth. This truth is relative to the network from which it emerges. In postmodernism, which includes but also extends to thinkers other than Foucault, discourses may be vocal, written or gestural.
The Foucauldian understanding of discourse also includes institutionalized practices (e.g. the school system) or even architectural statements connoting a certain truth claim about a given group or society (e.g. 1 WTC, Burj Khalifa, CN Tower, Eiffel Tower, Empire State Building, Taj Mahal).
In addition, Foucault maintains that different discourses may take similar forms. For instance, political and economic discourses of the 18th and 19th centuries embrace discursive styles reflecting the scientific belief in evolution.
In the 21st century, giving a discourse a scientific look and feel may enhance its social legitimacy, appeal to the masses, and therefore have real effects. This is perhaps most obvious in TV ads, where products are often endorsed by actors portraying scientists, doctors and nurses. Dressing up ads in the garb of science is one form of scientism.
Interestingly, some contend that all of science (and not just cheesy ads) is really just another kind of mythmaking. These critics argue that science is always biased at some level, has degrees of institutionalized corruption, and reflects some kind of culturally relative paradigm (way of seeing the world).
From this perspective, science is a kind of temporary fiction. Its method does generate practical and helpful results. But some argue that scientists should better recognize their limits and not make overblown truth claims based on the visible successes of the scientific method. After all, this method is, to put it simply, one that tests hypotheses. And any hypothesis is always subject to falsification—if not today, perhaps tomorrow. So technologies usually improve, as does our grasp of ourselves and the world around us.
¹ This historical introduction is derived from David Macey’s The Penguin Dictionary of Critical Theory, 2000, pp. 100-101.
- Foucault: His Thought, His Character (review) 2012 (foucaultnews.com)
- Wrong-Doing, Truth-Telling by Foucault (2013) (foucaultnews.com)
- Discourse, ideology? MA assignment (journoactivist.com)
- Poststructuralism (prmarketingcommunication.com)
- #27: Discourse on Method by Rene Descartes (1year100books.wordpress.com)
- Michel Foucault, Pierre Rivière and the Archival Imaginary (2011) (foucaultnews.wordpress.com)
- Critical Is Sexy (thoughtcatalog.com)
- Michel Foucault: Power, Discourse and 9/11 (nortonbooks.typepad.com)
- Language as the Place Where Reality Gets Constructed (intersectingspaces.wordpress.com)
- Chomsky Can’t Be Bothered to Learn C (byfat.xxx)
Malcolm X (1925-65)
Formerly Malcolm Little, he was arrested and imprisoned for burglary. While in jail Little converted to The Nation of Islam, a religious group founded in Detroit.
At one point in his career he taught that whites were devils, inferior to blacks and doomed to disappear from the globe. In his own words:
Thoughtful white people know they are inferior to Black people. Even [Senator James] Eastland knows it. Anyone who has studied the genetic phase of biology knows that white is considered recessive and black is considered dominant.¹
This strange and hostile brand of scientism was based on the teachings of Fard Muhammad (1891-?), the controversial founder of The Nation of Islam.
Watched by the FBI, Fard Muhammad claimed that the morally inferior “blue-eyed devils” would be destroyed by the appearance of a space ship, an event that would mark global Armageddon.²
Little came to take up the new name “Malcolm X” and ultimately became a Sunni Muslim and black leader, believing that Islam was the religion of choice because it was non-racist.
Malcolm X also advocated a black nation – that is, racial segregation – in the southern USA.
Later, however, his views became more moderate. Instead of focusing on a separate black nation he became a spokesman for human rights, especially among blacks.
Malcolm X toured the United States promoting black solidarity and was assassinated in 1965 by a group of three rival Muslims in Harlem. Since then he has become something of an icon for political activists, artists and pop musicians.
To this day he remains controversial. Some see him as a racist and black supremacist with leanings towards violence. Others see him as one of the greatest and most influential blacks in American history, inspiring figures like Muhammad Ali, liberation movements like Black Power and emancipatory slogans such as “Black is Beautiful.”
² Melanie King, Prophets, Seers & Visionaries, 2009, p. 130.
- Richardson: Malcolm X & Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial (nydailynews.com)
- Unpublished parts of Malcolm X classic acquired by lawyer (boston.com)
- “To Malcolm X on his 84th Birthday” and related posts (womanist-musings.com)
- MLK, Malcolm X, closer than thought? (cnn.com)
- picture unrelated lol It is incorrect to classify the revolt of… (ihatethismess.tumblr.com)
- “Remembering Malcolm” and related posts (postbourgie.com)
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Psi (Ψ, ψ) is a letter from the Greek alphabet, which in the 20th century came to refer to so-called paranormal phenomena.
The term was coined by Bertold P. Wiesner and was first appropriated in 1942 by Drs. Robert Thouless to designate ESP.¹ It later became something of an umbrella concept for a wide range of alleged abilities, to include psychokinesis.
Psi was also popularized in a Canadian TV program, Psi Factor (1996-2000), hosted by Dan Aykroyd, that dramatized the pros and cons of alleged psi abilities.
The status of psi remains controversial. Skeptics argue that no hard scientific evidence supports the idea. By way of contrast, enthusiasts say that psi is not amenable to science as currently understood and practiced.
Meanwhile, middle ground theorists like C. G. Jung claim, rightly or wrongly, that some published experiments yielded significant results.²
More recently, depth psychologists and cutting edge thinkers are calling for a new type of science that (a) would include diverse accounts of personal spiritual and paranormal experience as legitimate data for scientific study and (b) redefine what we mean by science to enable more holistic schemas, which would be considered scientific and not just examples of scientism.
In addition, some religious thinkers rightly question the ethical aspects of psi. While psi may exist, they argue, we’d do well to ask whether or not these abilities are in line with the Good, and more precisely, God’s will. This question opens the door to the possibility that evil agencies may endow individuals (or appear to endow them) with psi.
With regard to the idea that individuals may be deluded about their belief in psi abilities, psychiatry tends to view the issue in terms of mental health and illness. While not absolutely negating the possibility of psi, contemporary psychiatry would also consider whether the brain is creating some kind of hallucination which could give patients the false belief that they had special psychic powers.
Interestingly, in the Catholic fold there’s a curious presence of traditional religious and modern psychiatric perspectives. Exorcism prayers are still read over those deemed possessed or obsessed by an evil spirit. But at the same time, afflicted individuals may be screened beforehand to ensure that the issue is a spiritual and not a psychological one.
While this approach is not without merit, it seems to reflect the same kind of compartmentalized and, perhaps, politically expedient thinking and practice that the Catholic Church has exhibited over the centuries.
Instead of an either/or situation, it seems reasonable to suggest that spiritual deception could result from some combination of both psychological and spiritual issues. And effective treatments may require both religious and psychological procedures.
¹ Thouless, R. H. (1942) cited at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psi_%28parapsychology%29, “Experiments on paranormal guessing”. British Journal of Psychology, 33, 15-27.
² Clark, Michael. Synchronicity and poststructuralism: C. G. Jung’s secularization of the supramundane, 1997: pp. 72, 119-122, 130, 156-157, 177-179.
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Definitions of religion vary widely.
Some contend that almost any belief or activity that ‘moves the soul,’ ‘activates,’ ‘energizes’ or ‘inspires’ is a religion. For example, Marxism, Scientism and Athleticism may loosely be taken as religions.
Some scholars even say that the TV program Star Trek is a religion. And The Economist published an article suggesting that Google is like a religion.¹
Still, others insist that a religion must refer to a group, not just an individual.
Western jurisprudence stipulates that a religious group must exhibit some degree of organization and be legally registered to be recognized as a legitimate institution.
And then there are those who insist that religion requires scripture, rites, ritual obligations, representatives and leaders, as well as a route to transcendental liberation or salvation.
- Many items about religion at earthpages.org. Here’s a site search using keyword religion.
Szasz, Thomas (1920 – )
Hungarian psychiatrist and author of many books, including his best known work, The Myth of Mental Illness (1960).
Almost a decade before collaborating with The Church of Scientology, Szasz argued that the science behind psychiatry provides an example of scientism.
For Szasz, the term mental illness is a socially constructed myth rather than an actual fact. He believes that the concept of mental illness is generated within, not above, other historically positioned truth claims.
Written before Henri Ellenberger’s The Discovery of the Unconscious (1970) and Michel Foucault‘s poststructural analysis, Histoire de la folie à l’âge classique (1961), Szasz’s work is often on the reading list for undergraduate courses in the Humanities at liberal-democratic universities.
Critics of Szasz’s perspective point out that psychiatry like any other science is in a constant state of development. Depending on factors like the patient’s actual condition, the competency of the psychiatrist and the political climate of the country in which assessments are made, it may be used for good or ill.
Szasz continues to be prolific, however. His latest publications contain some sociological and philosophical insights but seem to represent the unrealistically polarized views of a somewhat isolated but well-meaning humanitarian (e.g Schizophrenia: The Sacred Symbol of Psychiatry, 1988; Psychiatry: The Science of Lies, 2008).
Most recognized psychiatric associations have rejected his ideas, a situation which some say resembles an orthodox Church marginalizing heresies.
The polarization of anti-psychiatry vs. psychiatry is a sad state of affairs because it probably makes otherwise intelligent figures like Szasz more uncompromising and extreme, lessening their ability to see other perspectives.
When someone is convinced they’re right and the other is entirely wrong, constructive dialogue usually disappears.
» DSM-IV-TR, Madness, Postmodernism, Unconscious
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Science [Latin scientia = knowledge]
Science has, at the very least, two meanings. The first meaning is most commonly held in the so-called hard sciences (the natural and physical sciences) and relates to the systematic observation of nature from which laws and theories are developed.
These laws and theories, according to most definitions, may be supported or disproved. This is made possible by the fact that, once published, scientific results become public. As public knowledge, new findings (and the theories derived from them) are subject to peer review and, when appropriate, replication.
The other meaning of science is far more vague, often cropping up in relation to the so-called soft social sciences.
Political science, sociology and psychoanalysis, for instance, rely on theories. But these theories often rest on selective, scant or downright questionable empirical research. And they tend to use correlational or multivariate instead of causal experimental designs.
Correlational studies merely tell us that, in certain circumstances, two variables of interest occur together in some degree of statistical probability, whereas multivariate designs look at any number of variables and attempt to determine their probability of occurring together.
Most agree that no definitive causality can be determined with either correlational or multivatiate analyses (although debates, as with most everything else in life, continue here). And some philosophers like David Hume critique the entire notion of causality.
Without getting too complicated, we could say that most reasonable thinkers would agree that correlational and multivariate studies in any branch of science do not adequately explain why things happen.
We often hear the word “link” when scientific results are reported in the media; for instance, “Scientists Find Link Between Dopamine and Obesity.” But, again, this link doesn’t tell us what causes what.
“It’s possible that obese people have fewer dopamine receptors because their brains are trying to compensate for having chronically high dopamine levels, which are triggered by chronic overeating,” says Wang. “However, it’s also possible that these people have low numbers of dopamine receptors to begin with, making them more vulnerable to addictive behaviors including compulsive food intake.” (Source: Scientists Find Link Between Dopamine and Obesity in Brookhaven National Laboratory, February 1, 2001 » http://www.bnl.gov/bnlweb/pubaf/pr/2001/bnlpr020101.htm).
Contemporary depth psychologists and those interested in integrating science, religion and spirituality suggest that a new form of science, beyond immediate physiological, behavioral, social or environmental factors, is needed to better account for the workings of the psyche in relation to the universe and God.
Critiques of science take three main forms: Theological, philosophical and sociological.
Theological critiques of science have two branches. On the one hand theologians warn against falling into the trap of adopting a false moral neutrality that they say some scientists advocate (e.g. with the scientific technologies related to abortion). The other branch relates to the theological claim that conventional science cannot account for nor predict revealed, infused or illuminated forms of knowledge. And some theologians regard theology, itself, as a science—in fact, the noblest type.
Philosophical critiques of science tend to question the initial assumptions upon which results and subsequent theories are based. The role of interpretation is also highlighted, as it relates to the problem of ‘built-in’ biases that influence observation, results and subsequent analysis—i.e. critics say the total problem, approach and solution are biased by the cognitive parameters of the investigator or investigative team.
Karl Popper says that scientific truth claims may only be disproved, never proved. Meanwhile Willard Quine says empiricism contains “two dogmas.” One dogma is the distinction often made between intellectual constructs and facts. The second dogma is reductionism; that is, the belief that naming and meaning are the same.
Sociological critiques of science don’t overlook philosophical issues but tend to focus on the role of social power in shaping, legitimizing and reproducing scientific truth-claims within the broader context of social norms.
Some writers, like Broad and Wade (Betrayers of the Truth, 1982), report actual cases where scientific credentials have been forged and results fabricated. And some cultural theorists, particularly postmoderns, see science as just another conceptual game or ‘fiction’ posing as truth.
The bottom line is that science is complicated, far more than we usually hear on the evening news. But the word “science” still has a strange power to sway the masses, a power arguably out of sync with the realities of its complexity. No wonder some say that the ideology of science has replaced religion as the largest single social brainwasher.
» Archaeology, Aristotle, Chakras, Emic-Etic, Fundamentalism, Galileo Galilei, Ideal types, Myth, Particle-Wave Duality, Phenomenology, Postmodernism, Poststructuralism, Saint-Simon (Comte Henri de), Scientism, Semiology
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Athleticism In 1973 a Canadian not-for-profit private company called Participaction ran TV messages, similar in style to commercial ads, calling viewers to get physical exercise.
One segment claimed the average 30-year-old Canadian was in similar physical condition to the average 60-year-old Swede.
The ad had significant impact across Canada while years later it was suggested that
This was pure fiction. No one had any real evidence for this assertion other than international fitness comparisons that put the Swedish population well ahead of Canada and everyone else.
Source » “Bring Back the 60-year old Swede!”
TV viewers in Canada continue to watch newer ads, such as Body Break (1989-), which advocate an active lifestyle.
Michel Foucault and other sociologists argue that discourses about the body often hide behind their innocuous and benevolent exterior a marked political agenda–the legitimization of a social system that claims to ‘scientifically’ improve society.
From this perspective, scientific and medical discourses focusing on personal health tend to deflect public attention from pressing environmental matters–such as toxic waste.
The same has been said with regard to aspects of discourse about crime and mental illness. The emphasis on personal remedies arguably eclipses the need to address greater societal maladies.
This seems especially so with minority groups and the economic poor. “Decadent rap music” and “drugs,” for example, are often singled out as factors contributing to higher crime rates and mental illness among youths within visible minority groups. But often overlooked is systemic racism and the significant stressors encountered by so-called “have-nots” living in societies marked by sharp economic disparity.
A New Testament view of athleticism, often ignored by Christians, presents another extreme perspective that differs from contemporary wisdom:
For bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come (1 Timothy 4:8).
» Poststructuralism, Scientism
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