Six Simple Ideas

A nice little pitch-placed montage of pop scientists singing the praises of objectivity. I resonate with this thread. Science is a kind of poetry of shared reality. As Dawkins chirps, “science replaces private prejudices with publicly verifiable evidence.”

World religion is fragmented into hundreds, perhaps thousands, of competing frameworks, with no central mediating idea. And while science can boast of central unifying tenets, it cannot address the depths of the human heart, the human spirit, the reality of hope (see Havel quote prior post). Maybe someday it will, but for now most of us embrace metaphysical metaphor to help make sense of mystery, death, and self.

It is here: where objectivity meets mystery — where science meets spirituality — that our most important conversations are taking place. The world of religion can learn much from the scientific method, yet religion persists in trying to jam its clumsy superstitions into elegant, well-establish meta-patterns. Conversely, science, in its assumption that it can eventually objectify all reality, misses the fact that it hasn’t. Science would be well-served by integrating an engaged, conversational respect for the views of transcendence that currently fuel many of the planet’s greatest hopes and dreams.

I’ve encountered a number of scientists who, while remaining atheistic or agnostic, have developed a healthy posture towards spirituality. Fact is, most scientists do maintain a sense of spirituality and/or faith. It’s a serious problem that the 5% militant extremes (on both sides) are often seen as the norm.

As I mentioned here some years ago, physicist, astronomer, and atheist Marcelo Gleiser (Dartmouth) weighed in on the war between science and religion. He warns fellow scientists that they are becoming “as radical as the religious extremists, as inflexible and intolerant as the movements we seek to exterminate by our oh-so-crystal-clear-and-irresistibly-compelling rationalizations.” Gleiser admits that science cannot offer the humanly essential qualities of hope, peace, charity, and spirit. He concludes, “It is futile and naive to simply dismiss the need people have for spirituality… either science will teach us humility and respect for life or we will exterminate this most precious cosmic jewel. I am optimistic that scientists will teach people these lessons, instead of simply trying to rob them of their faith and offering nothing in return.”

My public journal (aka blog) exists, in part, because of my desire to see greater consilience between science/technology and faith/spirituality. Numerous science/spirit resources can be found in the sidebar. What’s needed in today’s rapidly connecting global culture, especially religious culture, is a way towards understanding the nature of unhealthy bias – how it clouds our thinking. Philosopher/scientist Massimo Pigliucci (NYU) offers six simple ideas that can help us overcome this “meta-bias” — our “not wanting to be wrong.”

Divorce your belief from your self

Think of disagreements as collaborative, not adversarial

Visualize being wrong

Take the long view

Congratulate yourself on being objective, not on being right

If you can’t overcome your competitive instinct, re-direct it

Until we “become fine with being wrong” we will continue to harbor survival techniques which force us to hold on to irrational meta-biases. I journal this more as a reminder to myself than anyone else..


9 thoughts on “Six Simple Ideas

  1. Note the modifier. Science is the poetry of shared reality. The community of science requires each participant to work with common metrics, all subject to the great equalizer of objective falsifiability. There’s a kind of poetry in the communal, shared harmony of science, no?

    On the other hand, religion and philosophy have no objective center but are fragmented into hundreds of interpretive communities. Yet the greatest spiritual ideas seem to overcome this fragmentation, finding profound yet common truths, which perhaps is often the greatest poetry of all.

  2. Science is the originator of fragmentation in that it must deconstruct the whole to examine the part. In so doing often times it reconstructs a synthetic version (fragment) of the natural order (unified / holistic whole which is both visible material and invisible spiritual) that has taken ions to become.. In a way science is art redesigning nature to serve its ends. Science has not taken complex and unending patterns of connectivity under consideration. Even the singularity – now under construction – will exist in a cosmos of deeply flawed duality and – no human invention in this time and space can break out of that dimension unless significant spiritual events take place via the long and short term intentions of the creator / and not via mans invention. I think I am asking a question – how far can man / science go without completely upsetting a natural /divine order and balance — seems like it is getting really close.

  3. I don’t see how the modifier changes anything. I’ve seen very little in science that is poetry-like. Peer-reviewed articles and lab notes are nothing like poetry (as exciting and awe-inspiring as they may be).

    The idea of “objective falsifiability” is a pretty outdated idea about how science works, BTW. Scientists are members of “interpretive communities” as much as philosophers or theologians.

  4. Cynthia, thinking here about pure science, not applied science.

    Brad, falsification = testability leading to a general consensus of a community. In this case, the global scientific community. Falsifiability reduces error and improves probability. Classic Popper. I do find a poetic harmony in this, as it shows the universe to have curiosity built in to its fabric.

    Sure, at the farthest reaches of science, the best we can do is attempt to interpret fuzzy and incomplete data. Even so, data interpretation remains a shared process for all but the fringe (the “5%” mentioned in my post).

    There are no “denominations” of science. There is only one, universally practiced scientific method, subject to constant scrutiny and universal open source peer review. Mutually-acknowledged (and usually measurable) uncertainty plays a central role in this method, which is something sorely missing in most religious communities.

  5. “Classic Popper” is outdated, as I said. Anybody who has seriously studied science knows that this isn’t how science works. And there are, of course, “denominations” in science … molecular biologists, particle physicists, psychologists, cosmologists, chemists, developmental biologists, etc., all use different methods, publish in different journals, use different types of instruments, and use different types of tests. The idea of one, universal scientific method is a myth.

    But I am still curious to hear an answer to my initial question. Science obviously develops theories about reality, but theories are a far cry from poems. Even if I accept for the sake of argument that Popper’s ideas about science are correct, it doesn’t change the fact that what scientists do is a very different than what poets do. Note that I’m not trying to say one of these groups is more or less important than the other … both groups are important and the world would be a worse place if either group was missing. What I am saying is that science isn’t the poetry of (shared) reality … the poetry of (shared) reality is, in fact, poetry. Science is the theories of (shared) reality.

  6. Brad, I see what you’re saying, yet poetry is also our collective longing for truth, for reality. The awe we feel at the immense mysteries in the universe, is poetry. This shared human longing is embodied strongest, I suggest, in the realms of religion and science. Rather than the poetry of one writer – this is the poetry we become, together, as we move closer towards the ineffable. This poetry may not appear as characters on a page. It is poetry because no person can embrace or express its totality.

    Universal scientific method outdated? Objective testability, falsification, and peer review no longer the common law of global science? I beg to differ. In fact, because of new connective strategies, the scientific method is more operative today than at any time in history (though I wouldn’t put psychology in the same category of the “hard” sciences you listed: biology, physics, chemistry…)

    The scientific method strives for purity in shared, open-source objectivity. Scientists properly point out religion’s lack of universal peer review. Religion, much like commercialized science, often creates exclusionary, isolationist, institutional hierarchies that breed an us-and-them mentality. Science “replaces private prejudices with publicly verifiable evidence.” Pure science is inclusive by nature. Religion can, and should, learn from this.

  7. “Pure science is inclusive by nature. Religion can, and should, learn from this.”

    …and visa-versa. The purest forms of religious expression reflect a deeper quest for unity, truth, and global compassion that all people can learn from.

    As a professor of biology (and thus, a lifelong student of the art), I am aware of the beauty of nature. But as a convert to Islam (10 years today), I am also aware of the beauty of the human spirit.

  8. Gad Fly, I’m with you. I recently heard the word “scientism” which implies that science provides all the answers that are worth having. Fundamentalism is not restricted to religion.

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