Monday, December 29, 2014

Heresy in the Church of Science

I have, many times, criticized the American transition into science as a new religion. But, to be clear, it is not science I have a problem with; it's the worship of science I have a problem with. In fact, I (note the quite intentional lack of a rude expletive) love science. I have been fascinated with it since I was a boy.

As neurologist David Eagleman so aptly pointed out, science is just a pier that stretches out into a vast ocean of things we do not know; therefore, science cannot be looked to for the definitive answers to everything. And it certainly cannot be seen as a defining parameter for all that is possible in the universe. Things exist, in incalculable numbers, outside of what science can prove. To say one doesn't believe in anything that is unproven is to admit to idiocy, if you ask me.

The worst outcome of this worship of science is the decreased wonder at the depth of the human mind and body.

Just a few days ago, this occurred to me as the reason why I turn so angrily away from studies that tell us that there is an answer as to the source of human creativity; or that show us, in a CT scan how the mind of an athlete works; or that explain the physiology behind criminal behavior; or that reduce love and passion to chemical equations.

We humans are so much more than that. A trend in brainwaves might be a pier into the ocean of what goes on in our minds, but it will ever be a boat ride to Truth.

And, in fairness, any good scientist will agree with me. Good scientists know that they are only laying planks into the pier of understanding out into the ocean of the unknown. It is the general (and sometimes insufferably arrogant) public who misinterpret science into a revelation of the absolute.

Often, on Facebook, those little quizzes pop up. Some are cute and mildly interesting ("What city should you live in?" [I got Lhasa, Tibet]). Others are asinine ("If you were a pie, what flavor would you be?"]). But, in most cases -- and friends have agreed, for them as well -- I find I can't answer; none of the answer choices fit me. We are bigger than data collection.

I get that these quizzes are only entertainment, but their popularity is telling. And darned if some of my Facebook friends don't seem to take them pretty seriously.

Standardized testing is the most harmful outcome of this worship of science and data gathering. There are legions of geniuses in American schools who have been informed of their intellectual inadequacy by these tests. How many of them will set their sights low as a result? -- how many wonderful works of art or scientific advances will be missed because a child thought he didn't have the brains to pursue his interests?

Research and science are not -- and never will be -- advanced enough to define or categorize the human mind. Still, these tests are used to define not only the minds of our children but the talents of our teachers. (In some cases, the jobs of these teachers depend on the results.)

We humans have abilities that are off any chart ever conceived, either in terms of our minds or of our bodies. We have intuitions that can be profound. There are invisible connections between us all that bind us in emotional tangles. There are confluences of thought and feeling that lead a pianist to play a section in a way, on one night, that she never planned. A great batter can do fifty games with hits and then slump for seventy, though nothing about him has changed, physically. There are Beethovens and Einsteins and there are autistic savants. There are people with IQ's of 60 who can paint masterpieces. There is love.

Being able to identify trends and coincidences behind these things is not the same as explanation. The idea that "anything in the universe can be explained in a mathematical equation" is just absurd.

It's all a little like saying that the most beautiful bar of music ever written can be explained by analysis; saying that it contains a quarter note followed by a half note and two eighth notes on various pitches.

Science is noble, the way master carpentry is. But is it not the ultimate determination of Truth. One can only understand something fully through both thought and feeling. Truth is a "knowing" in the body, mind and heart.

To reduce the human animal and the cosmos to the results of data collection is an attack on the wonders of the universe and it is the ultimate arrogance.

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