cultural myths and misery

S.K. Harrison skh23ca at
Fri Dec 7 14:22:58 EST 2001

> From: John Schinnerer <eco_living at>

> Nice try, but the very quote you use:
> > "Man's [sic] achievements rest upon the use
> > of symbols. For this reason, we must consider
> > ourselves as a symbolic, semantic class of
> > life, and those who rule the symbols, rule 
> > us."
> ...supports my point.  If you insist on this:
> > need to provide quantitative and
> > verified data to convince those of us who 
> > don't want to be led around by the stupid-
> > ring in our noses.
> Then you are ruled by those who rule through 
> the dogma of science (scientific 
> assumptions/symbols) as the only "legitimate" 
> manner of explaining.  You want me to use the 
> tautologies (tautologous - "true by virtue of 
> its logical form alone") of science, and only 
> those, to construct a convincing argument 
> concerning science; other manners of explaining

> are not allowed, because - they're not 
> scientific!  How convenient for the rulers of 
> the symbols!  And how very similar to other 
> forms of religious fundamentalism.

Please take some basic philosophy of science
before constructing strawmen out of strawmen. We
*can* learn to recognize reliable knowledge from
unreliable knowledge, for example, by resorting
to meta-analyses instead of believing the media,
or newage frauds, or corporate bleaters when they
make the portentous announcement that a *single*
study said so and so.

I'd also recommend reading Korzybski. He tackles 
meta-languages (i.e. talking about talking or
finding out about finding out); also, he presents
means for educating oneself in an habitual
multi-valued orientation. He would assert that
even your efforts to deny contemporary science
and reason will have little effect if you
continue to evaluate using our millenia-old
institutionalized aristotelian two-valued
orientation--known in the vernacular as
"either-or" and used whenever you speak with a
couple of common forms of the verb "to be."

> Science never "proves" anything.  It can
> *disprove*; it can *improve* a
> theorem; that's all.  Any "data" will be
> "verified" by those who find
> it can explain what they want it to and
> rejected by those who find it
> can't.

So you're trying to tell me that apples don't
fall to the ground at 32 feet per second per
second? Pardon me, mate, but that remains an
invariant law on this planet, demonstrated again
and again for centuries. Many more examples
exist. You're welcome to conduct the experiments
yourself if you disbelieve me.

> And all "data" is just "anecdotes" (stories we 
> tell ourselves) gathered in a particular 
> context by particular observers with a 
> particular intent.

Another strawman. Scientific inquiry works
because people with different opinions can
conduct the experiments and obtain results with
minimal deviation from previous results. If a
subsequent experiment does not match up with the
first, then we have grounds for a dispute and
further research. But if we have three hundred
experiments reporting minimal deviation from
predictions and only one experiment with marked
different results, few people will continue to
experiment in that field to discern the
differences. Usually the latter are called
cranks--sometimes they prove the scientific
establishment wrong, but most often not.

> That's why science is inherently "political" -
> because *all* data, experiments, statistics, 
> calculations, quantifying, verifying etc. are
> observed/created/designed/manipulated/*done* by
> living breathing human beings, who have intents

> and desires and beliefs and loves and hates
> and so on, against which some abstract idea of
> "pure" science doesn't stand a chance of 
> surviving in practice.
> This can be observed easily - scientists
> frequently disagree, even when working on the 
> very same project and playing with the very
> experiments and data sets and so on.  If
> "quantifying" and "verifying" and so on were in

> any way *truly* objective manners of explaining
> (they're not, because there's always multiple
> humans involved), they'd all agree, all the 
> time.

You seem to have developed the impression that
scientists claim for themselves some kind of
perfect conduct or perfect results. I would
rephrase that to say the results of modern
inquiry provide the most reliable knowledge we
have to date. I don't say absolute or perfect.
But when we've been studying things for centuries
(i.e. since Newton), and we keep getting similar
results, we might as well admit that nature has 
varying predictabilities--some characteristics
remain predictable enough that we can, for
example, calculate the amount of fuel we need for
such finicky and dangerous acts as flying to the
moon and back. Nature exhibits also some
characteristics of relative *un*predictability as
yet--mostly in the social sciences, which remain
fairly new in comparison to granddaddies like

> So perhaps if you were to start collecting data
> (articles from many sources about scientific 
> disagreements, for example) over a long period
> of time, you could quantify and verify to your
> satisfaction that this actually happens.

This doesn't qualify as genuine scientific
gathering of data. You have no peer-review.
Again, please study some philosophy of science.

> Collecting data on politicians and 
> businesspeople warping "science" to fit their 
> desires might be a whole 'nother data set 
> (though I suspect there'd be lots of overlap).

Did you read the Phil Agre article to which I
linked in a previous post? He addresses this
concern and similar others.

In short, yes, some people and corporations use
the *mystique*, the *appearance* of reason for
their own aims--but we owe the success of this to
laypeople's misunderstanding of the process of
scientific inquiry--we do not owe it to some
inherent truthlessness in those pursuits.

John, I suspect we could argue about the details
of science and politics 'til we pushed up
daisies--and yet we would not come any closer to
conciliation. So although I'd be glad to persist
in this dialogue--if only for the practice at
debate--I'd like also to become more familiar
with your basic orientation outside this
contentious atmosphere. With that in mind, would
you mind telling me your philosophical travails
to have arrived at your present opinions? If you
wish, I'd love to reciprocate.


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