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Scientism

sea turtle – Test Tube – Gummy bear contamination! (Please note: No gummy bears were harmed or consumed in the making of this photo shoot) via Flickr

Scientism has two meanings. One refers to 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.” Wikipedia gives a good outline of this approach:

Scientism is belief in the universal applicability of the scientific method and approach, and the view that empirical science constitutes the most “authoritative” worldview or the most valuable part of human learning – to the exclusion of other viewpoints. Accordingly, philosopher Tom Sorell provides this definition of scientism: “Scientism is a matter of putting too high a value on natural science in comparison with other branches of learning or culture.”¹

The second meaning refers to the partial and/or deceptive use of methods generally recognized as scientific.

Put simply, some people actively deceive or try to appear scientific for 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). More recent examples can be found here:

Related to the second meaning, a specious argument may be given a scientific gloss to make it seem legitimate. We find this in so many TV ads where professional actors wear white lab coats, trying to look like authoritative scientists or medical professionals while selling products ranging from automobiles to toothpaste.

Also, the representation of statistics may be disproportional to actual results. Sometimes we find bloated or extended bar graphs that make results look more significant than they really are—another common advertising trick that falls under this kind of scientism.

Because the entire definition of science is problematic, one could say that the idea of scientism, itself, is also fraught with difficulty. Science is a human enterprise. And in my opinion it’s often a fine line between science and scientism. Or maybe a gray and blurry one.

¹ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientism

Related » Advertising, Athleticism, Chance, Marx, Marxism, Politics, Postmodernism, Power, Religion, Science, Thomas Szasz

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Mr. Spock

Can Art 14 (Spock): Matthew Niemi

Can Art 14 (Spock): Matthew Niemi via Flickr

In the TV show Star Trek: The Original Series Mr. Spock is a Vulcan science officer aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise, famously portrayed by actor Leonard Nimoy (1931 – 2015).¹ As Captain Kirk‘s right hand man, Spock plays a pivotal role as the only non-human crew member. In fact, he acts as a foil for not only other characters, but also for some of the prevalent cultural biases of the so-called developed world of the 1960s.

Spock’s father was Vulcan and his mother human. As such he has an internal conflict between suppressing his emotions, which Vulcans are known for, and permitting their expression, as human do.

Publicity photo of Leonard Nimoy and William S...

Publicity photo of Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner as Mr. Spock and Captain Kirk from the television program Star Trek. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While this was a clever idea back in the 1960s, the notion that any species would try to live purely on logic, as Vulcans claim to do, seems impractical. Along these lines, the Swiss depth psychiatrist C. G. Jung advocated the integration of thinking, feeling, sensation and intuition (albeit for human beings).

When Star Trek first appeared in 1966, Spock’s skin was reddish in color, he looked more devilish and his speech was somewhat rough. He originally conformed to the “red Martian” stereotype of the 1950s and 60s. But Trek producers quickly became interested in developing a more complex character and Spock’s appearance softened.

His looks became more elfin than devilish and he began to harbor intense emotions under a somewhat fragile veneer of Vulcan rationality. The changes paid off. At times Spock’s popularity among viewers rivaled Kirk’s. The Vulcan psychological, cultural and political tension between logic and emotion is also brought out in Star Trek: Enterprise through the female character, T’Pol.

Zachary Quinto as Spock in the 2009 Star Trek film

Zachary Quinto as Spock in the 2009 Star Trek film (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Director J. J. Abrams’ 2009 hit movie Star Trek brought Spock back into the spotlight. This time Spock is both an old (played by an elderly Leonard Nimoy) and a young man (Zachary Quinto).

The fact that Nimoy is showcased in this blockbuster film while William Shatner (who played the original Captain Kirk) is absent is perhaps telling as to Spock’s ongoing popularity and cultural significance in the 21st century. Or possibly it just tells us more about internal friendships and politics within the Star Trek franchise.

Spock also had a cameo role in the successful film Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013). Again, Shatner was not included in this production.

Spock’s signature Vulcan saying “Live Long and Prosper” is perhaps equally popular as the phrase “May the Force be with you” from the Star Wars films—two instances where science fiction has had a significant impact on pop culture.

Interestingly, Wikipedia tells us that Nimoy had a difficult time differentiating himself from the Spock character while the original series was in production. Apparently the cool logic of Spock would stay with Nimoy all week and into the weekend, right up to Sunday afternoon. So he’d have Sunday night as Nimoy, only to return to Spock again on Monday morning.²

Vulcan (Star Trek)

Vulcan (Star Trek) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recently, an asteroid in our solar system was renamed 4864 Nimoy in his honor.³

¹ Younger Trekkies might not know that, at the time of the original series, a certain Dr. Benjamin Spock was a famous pediatrician, child psychologist and bestselling author. So quite possibly the name Spock was chosen in hope that it would resonate with viewers on some level. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benjamin_Spock

² https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leonard_Nimoy

³ http://www.space.com/29627-leonard-nimoy-asteroid-name.html


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Star Trek: Enterprise

Star Trek: The Tour Beamed up in the Transporter: Conrad Quilty-Harper

Star Trek: The Tour Beamed up in the Transporter: Conrad Quilty-Harper via Flickr

Star Trek: Enterprise, originally called Enterprise, is the most recent incarnation in the Star Trek TV franchise, running for four seasons from 2001-2005. The action is set in the future but before the time of Captain Kirk (of the original series), making it a prequel.

Enterprise is the story of the very first U.S.S. Enterprise, equipped with recently developed warp drive technology, all set to leave Earth and the solar system for deep space exploration.

The alien, technologically superior and emotionless Vulcan race has been on Earth for a while, holding back the Earth’s space program because the ‘overly emotional’ human race wasn’t ready for extended inter-species contact.

Captain Jonathan Archer doesn’t like how Vulcans have been stalling humanity for years, but initial tensions between Archer and his Vulcan Science Officer, T’Pol, gradually resolve into mutual respect.

The series initially received encouraging reviews but its fan base dwindled and, despite attempts at innovation, the show became increasingly lackluster and Enterprise eventually fell out of warp in the TV ratings.

However, Enterprise did have some bright moments amid its steady decline, especially when dealing with the topic of time travel. And the cultural and mythic importance of the entire Star Trek franchise is hard to overlook. The Oxford English Dictionary, for instance, now includes in its database the word Klingon.

Scott Bakula

Scott Bakula (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s some more information from the entry, Jonathan Archer:

Some critics of Star Trek: Enterprise, a series initially with good ratings that steadily dropped, said [Scott] Bakula was miscast or, worse, unworthy of the role. The series was canceled after four seasons, which in the Star Trek universe isn’t a total flop nor a great success.

From watching reruns today it seems the commercial demise of the show wasn’t about casting Bakula as captain. If anything, it was about inconsistent writing (sometimes lapsing into formulaic trash), bad timing and other factors. Co-creator and executive producer Branon Braga once said it pained him when his series wasn’t up to scratch. So even he knew it had problems.

Newer programs like BattleStar Galactica: Reimagined, Kyle XY, Dr. Who (series 1) and Oprhan Black suggest that sci-fi was heading in new directions at warp speed, whereas Enterprise and its writers seemed to be stuck in impulse drive. And for a while, it seemed like the franchise had gone the way of the dinosaur.

Wrong.

Enter director J.J. Abrams with Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto and others to reboot the idea [in 2009] for a whole new generation.


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TekWar

Shatner, William – TekWar (1990 PB) uploaded by sdobie
via Flickr

TekWar is a series of science fiction novels, TV shows and made-for-TV movies created by William Shatner (Captain Kirk of Star Trek) portraying a disturbing vision of mankind’s technological future.

Although the books imply that Shatner is the author, after some time it came out that they were ghost-written by science-fiction author Ron Goulart.

In TekWar dark warlords enslave the population through the distribution of a mind-altering drug in a corrupt society. What’s novel about this drug is that it’s entirely digital. A microchip.

Good and bad characters fight information wars on an advanced internet, connected directly to the mind. Users wear special headgear and information is externally displayed in holographic images.

So instead of computers merely receiving viruses through the web, as we have today, enemy hackers can literally kill each other through the neural interface.

While the idea of “killing thoughts” may seem unique to science fiction, similar non-technological myths of killing at a distance appear in voodoo doll, witchcraft and evil eye lore. And some mystics and shamanic practitioners believe they are mystically “killing” the lesser aspects of other people’s personalities through a kind of inner, transpersonal “slamming,” for lack of a better word.

English: William Shatner photographed by Jerry...

William Shatner photographed by Jerry Avenaim (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If the claims of these mystics and shamans are true,¹ to me it would seem to involve a kind of unclear, gloomy or possibly hellish underworld that one hopefully would be able to rise above. But as long as individuals identify with this kind of dynamic (i.e. I’m the big, important psychic warrior and you just don’t understand...)² they’ll probably remain stuck there.

On this point the psychologist Carl Jung stressed time and again that so-called archetypal forces are powerful, transpersonal and sometimes volatile. The key, Jung said, is to not identify with any of them. And I think this is an important precursor to enjoying a higher, heavenly bliss that just can’t be found in a shadowy and tumultuous psychological underworld.

¹ (a) The Indian mystic Sri Aurobindo claimed to assist the Allied Forces in WW-II by virtue of his meditation, and at a distance. (b) Mircea Eliade in Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy notes that some shamans take up a different vocation if their culture doesn’t recognize them as such, which seems to suggest that, for some, their commitment to this practice is only as deep as their ability to make a living out of it.

² Jung called this inflation. And Joseph Campbell further delineated different types of mythic involvement with concepts of Mythic Dissociation, Mythic Eternalization, Mythic Identification, Mythic Inflation, Mythic Subordination.


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T’Pol

English: Jolene Blalock in Cairo

Jolene Blalock in Cairo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

T’Pol is a female Vulcan science officer in the American TV show Star Trek: Enterprise (active 2001-2005). The character is played by Jolene Blalock, who was one of the bright lights of the series. Attractive and chic, she also played the role to perfection.

At a 2002 sci-fi convention Blalock said that following Leonard Nimoy’s example (Mr. Spock) was no easy task but, judging from her popularity, she “must be doing something right.”

However, the initial enthusiasm for Enterprise quickly waned. The series couldn’t hold its audience and was canceled after four seasons. There’s been lots of speculation as to why Enterprise fell out of warp. Even co-creator and Executive Producer Brannon Braga admitted that some of the episodes were not up to the Trek standard.

Some blamed the casting of Scott Bakula. Others blamed the producers or perhaps the writers. And some said times just changed and Enterprise couldn’t keep step.

From a viewer’s perspective it seems the big wheels panicked when ratings began to slide. Enterprise lapsed into the kind of formulaic trash (e.g. extended battle scenes, sexy innuendo) that might have worked with other shows, but not with Star Trek. At its best Star Trek was innovative and progressive—and so much more than the flavor of the month.


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X-Men

Magneto's first appearance in X-Men #1 (Sept. ...

Magneto’s first appearance in X-Men #1 (Sept. 1963). Written by Stan Lee & art by Jack Kirby. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The X-Men are a fictional team of mutant superheroes with special abilities, created by Marvel Comics writers Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

The original comic book series has been successfully translated into several films and an animated TV series, with no less than 5 films slated for release in the near (X-Men: Days of Future Past) and not so near future.¹

An American/Canadian science fiction TV show called Mutant X is also based on the original Marvel comic strip.

The idea of X-Men compels us to consider that genetic mutation and recombination need not be a bad thing. And the X-Men series now includes X-Women, although no definitive attempt has been made to rectify the all-male implications of the original series title.

In the fictional story arc, social condemnation of the X-Men and their genetically enhanced abilities is unfounded, even paranoid. And it parallels real, misinformed or downright nasty social discrimination toward those at the extremes of the so-called “normal” bell curve.

Quite possibly some of today’s “freaks, geeks and flakes” are a precursor to the next stage of human evolution.

It’s also been suggested that X-Men is a symbolic protest against the racism and discrimination that different religious, ethnic and status groups may exhibit toward one another.

¹ See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/X-Men_%28film_series%29#Upcoming_and_potential_films

X-Men by sjmck via Flickr

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The Big Bang Theory

The Hubble Ultra Deep Field, is an image of a ...

The Hubble Ultra Deep Field, is an image of a small region of space in the constellation Fornax, composited from Hubble Space Telescope data accumulated over a period from September 3, 2003 through January 16, 2004. The patch of sky in which the galaxies reside was chosen because it had a low density of bright stars in the near-field. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Big Bang theory is a popular scientific theory but by no means a proven fact about the development of the universe.

The Big Bang theory suggests that a massive cosmic explosion took place about 14 to 20 billion years ago, out of which our known universe expanded and developed.

The theory does not account for how the matter/energy required for the hypothesized explosion got there in the first place. Nor does it account for the high degree of specialization and structure found in life that theologians say points to an intelligent designer (i.e. God).

The Big Bang theory is not, as some believe, an adequate replacement for theologically-based creation stories. The Big Bang is nothing more or less than a scientific theory that has captured the imagination of many people.

Not everyone is aware of the fact that many scientists are critical of the Big Bang. The discussion can get pretty technical, so I’ll just outline three leading links for those interested:

The idea of the Big Bang Theory is so popular that it’s not surprising that a hit TV show goes by the same name. IMBD.com sums up the TV show as follows:

A woman who moves into an apartment across the hall from two brilliant but socially awkward physicists shows them how little they know about life outside of the laboratory.