So what was it that got me to say something online after staying clear of such activity for so many years? Ignorance. Especially ignorance by those that should know better in positions of public/media education. This post was originally a comment made in support to this article: http://conscienceandconsciousness.com/2014/07/25/236/#comments by the philosopher Professor Philip Goff.
Goff’s post was itself a response to statements and musings made by particular science populisers, especially one individual that figures highly in the UK media. The statements or implication amounted to as much as that science is superior to philosophy. Here is my response, re-edited from Goff’s site:
Philosophy is essential for piecing together the existential puzzle, providing arrangement and context for the findings of the scientific process. Science and philosophy indeed are, and always have been, interdependent and complementary. They are both concerned with understanding the nature of reality.
Science is a method, not a position. When scientists make interpretations, maps, models, theories and world-views based on the acumulated data – they are actually engaging in philosophy. The problem occurs when some scientists engage in philosophy, unaware they are doing so and are then formulating ideas based on unquestioned philosophical assumptions; and then call it purely science. Some, even go so far as to make such ignorant statements to the point as philosophy being no longer required, when, ironically, they’re working under and announcing philosophical positions all the time.
Science, in its purest form, has no position. Positions are the province of philosophy when it comes to ontology. As Goff points out in his post, a divided subject-object philosophical position was adopted as a practical method of delineating areas of scientific investigation, never intending to be a position providing a complete picture. The Galilean compartmentalised working-position was a practical birth, as explained by Goff.
Unfortunately, science, has collectively-subconsciously been erroneously conflated with this philosophical position of metaphysical-materialism. That’s why when data is evidenced that contradicts the ‘working’ position, it becomes controversial amongst the academic community, because it “goes against our understanding of science.” Error: It goes against materialism. See the underlying philosophical ignorance?
Science has no problem with any data. It is obviously going to be philosophical positions and theories that have problems with any particular data that contradicts them. The scientific endeavour should have no philosophical biases nor agenda and be only concerned with the ongoing discovery of data which reveals reality as true as possible – confirming some philosophies and theories, and refuting others.
Many scientists know the difference between science and philosophy and know when they are making philosophical interpretations of the data evidenced. Many stay well clear of interpretations altogether, understanding the difference in academic disciplines and just do the science. Of course, there’s no problem with scientists doing philosophy. In fact, postulating theories is fundamentally necessary so that then the efforts and data hopefully reveal falsification or confirmation. Likewise, it is crucial for philosophers to keep abreast of as much key scientific data as possible, in order that it informs philosophy.
This is why in so much that you can’t divide subject-object, you can’t truly divide philosophy and science: one asks the questions, the other tries to find the answers. In respect, to grossly oversimplify, one asks why, when, what, how, and the other tries to verify with mathematical theory and a limited scope of measurement.
However, philosophy asks the questions, epistemologically, science is incapable of answering, investigating orders of reality that science cannot approach with reductionistic methodology. “Philosophy” is the ancient Greek description for “Love (Philo) of Wisdom (Sophia)” – the ancient Greek goddess Sophia being the personification and symbol of wisdom.
Questions to ponder : Where within the physicalist concept and scope of measurement could science quantify wisdom? Could it not be that only wisdom could provide that answer?
There needs to be an interdisciplinary conversation, rather than particular science public-communicators, irresponsibly and ignorantly exalting one discipline over the other. They are mutually co-dependant.
It should also be noted, as science is confused with the position of materialism, materialism is also confused with rationalism. When people refer to e.g “rational explanation” they really mean “materialist explanation”. This is why, when recently in regards to the fundamental question of consciousness, philosopher David Chalmers in this TedTalk http://www.ted.com/talks/david_chalmers_how_do_you_explain_consciousness, preemptively used the tactic of calling his ideas “crazy” i.e irrational, because they’re defecting from materialism – and in most western peoples’ naive assumption; rationalism.
Again, rationality is an instrument of discernment, not a position. It is one of many instruments of cognitive-function we use to negotiate reality and should not necessarily be pedestalised above any other tool we possess. Intuition, introspection, experiential insight, imagination and so on, are equally necessary scientific, philosophical and life tools.
A good philosopher and a good scientist, is a good detective. A good detective doesn’t dismiss any line of enquiry nor dismiss any recuring patterns as coincidence (discerning between cognitive-bias and genuine pattern), gathering as much evidence as necessary to solidify a coherent picture – no matter whether that picture confirms or falsifies their preferred position.
It is indeed difficult to remove the sociological factors from science and philosophy, and that is why falsified paradigms diehard. In the scheme of things, David Chalmers’ ideas are not crazy and neither are the many that have held them for thousands of years. They are the consequence of following the data and, indeed, rationality to its extreme logical conclusion.
Being skilled in one discipline, does not necessarily make one skilled in another. Being cognitively intelligent in being able to perform complex equations and recite paragraphs, verbatim, from phd-level physics textbooks, does not confer wisdom. And evidently, neither does it even confer the wisdom to tell the difference.