One thought on “Perspective: Philosopher’s Corner: The End of Puzzle Solving

  1. George Gantz

    “We have met the enemy and he is us!” The enterprise of science in the last century has also sown the seeds of its own downfall — and contributed to the changing cultural landscape you highlight. The common virtues that underpin the culture of science (love of truth – respect based on your ideas not who you are – faith in the discoverable regularities of nature – commitment to shared knowledge – humility in the face of the size, scope, scale and mystery of the natural universe) have been falling apart over the past century. Some of this decay is the result of increasing venality and aggrandizement in academics and publishing, but much of it is actually due to the changing subject matter itself.

    Specifically, science in the 20th century reached certain ineluctable limits to empirical inquiry that many scientists and science writers do not acknowledge. As a result, they (and much of the public) have implicitly adopted metaphysical and epistemological positions that conveniently deny and disparage valid alternative worldviews and that also severely constrain the permissible range of human experience and wisdom. We have made a transition from the optimism and certainty of Euclidean geometry and Newtonian mechanics to the new physics of relativity and quantum indeterminacy accompanied by the dynamics of chaotic systems, mathematical complexity and incompleteness and computational noncomputability. How does it feel to be told that what you see, who you are and what you think you do are mere illusions; to be told such a bizarre world is all there is and that everything we might think of as important, including love, value and purpose, is merely epiphenomenal. In such a worldview, one has to expect that venality and reputation would become more important that a commitment to truth.

    In addition, the content of scientific inquiry has become vastly more specialized and differentiated. The boundaries of empirical science are like a Mandelbrot fractal – scientific inquiry is pursuing knowledge into ever finer nooks and crannies. In many disciplines, there may be only a few scientists in the world with a detailed knowledge of the specific topic. Peer review becomes much more difficult as an effective enforcement of community norms. Thus, we have an increasing frequency of fraudulent of misrepresented scientific research in the face of the asymmetry of incentives for publication.

    More humility would help.

    Further reading:
    FQXi essay The Hole at the Center of Creation:
    IRAS Presentation The Empirical Standard for Knowing:
    Forum on the Integration of Science and Spirituality.


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