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Aug 08 2013

Repudiating scientism, rather than surrendering to it

When I heard that Steven Pinker had written a new piece decrying the accusations of scientism, I was anxious to read it. “Scientism” is a blunt instrument that gets swung in my direction often enough; I consider it entirely inappropriate in almost every case I hear it used.

Here’s the thing: when I say that there is no evidence for a god, that there’s no sign that there is a single specific thing this imagined being has done, I am not unfairly asking people to adopt the protocols of science — I am expecting to judge by their own standards and expectations. They are praying to Jesus in the expectation of a reward, not as, for instance, an exercise in artistic expression, so it is perfectly legitimate to point out they aren’t getting anything, and their concept of Jesus contradicts their own expectations. When I mock Karen Armstrong’s goofy deepities praising her nebulous cosmic being, I’m not saying she’s wrong because her god won’t fit in a test tube or grow in a petri dish, but because she’s doing bad philosophy and reasoning poorly — disciplines which are greater than and more universal than science.

Science is a fantastic tool (our only tool, actually) for probing material realities. Respect it for what it is. But please, also recognize that there’s more to the human experience than measurement and the acquisition of knowledge about physical processes, and that science is a relatively recent and revolutionary way of thinking, but not the only one — and that humans lived and thrived and progressed for thousands of years (and many still do, even within our technological culture!) without even the concept of science.

Scientism is the idea that only science is the proper mode of human thought, and in particular, a blinkered, narrow notion that every human advance is the product of scientific, rational, empirical thinking. Much as I love science, and am personally a committed practitioner who also has a hard time shaking myself out of this path (I find scientific thinking very natural), I’ve got enough breadth in my education and current experience to recognize that there are other ways of progressing. Notice that I don’t use the phrase “ways of knowing” here — I have a rigorous enough expectation of what knowledge represents to reject other claims of knowledge outside of the empirical collection of information.

It’s the curse of teaching at a liberal arts university and rubbing elbows with people in the arts and humanities all the time.

Which is why I was disappointed with Pinker’s article. I expected two things: an explanation that science is one valid path to knowledge with wide applicability, so simply applying science is not the same as scientism; and an acknowledgment that other disciplines have made significant contributions to human well-being, and therefore we should not pretend to be all-encompassing.

And then I read the first couple of paragraphs of his essay, and was aghast. This was unbelievable hubris; he actually is practicing scientism!

The great thinkers of the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment were scientists. Not only did many of them contribute to mathematics, physics, and physiology, but all of them were avid theorists in the sciences of human nature. They were cognitive neuroscientists, who tried to explain thought and emotion in terms of physical mechanisms of the nervous system. They were evolutionary psychologists, who speculated on life in a state of nature and on animal instincts that are “infused into our bosoms.” And they were social psychologists, who wrote of the moral sentiments that draw us together, the selfish passions that inflame us, and the foibles of shortsightedness that frustrate our best-laid plans.

These thinkers—Descartes, Spinoza, Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Rousseau, Leibniz, Kant, Smith—are all the more remarkable for having crafted their ideas in the absence of formal theory and empirical data. The mathematical theories of information, computation, and games had yet to be invented. The words “neuron,” “hormone,” and “gene” meant nothing to them. When reading these thinkers, I often long to travel back in time and offer them some bit of twenty-first-century freshman science that would fill a gap in their arguments or guide them around a stumbling block. What would these Fausts have given for such knowledge? What could they have done with it?

Hooooly craaaaaap.

Look, there’s some reasonable stuff deeper in, but that opening…could he possibly have been more arrogant, patronizing, and ahistorical? Not only is he appropriating philosophers into the fold of science, but worse, he’s placing them in his favored disciplines of cognitive neuroscience, evolutionary psychology, and social psychology. Does the man ever step outside of his office building on the Harvard campus?

Descartes and Hume were not evolutionary psychologists. He’s doing great violence to the intellectual contributions of those men — and further, he’s turning evolutionary psychology into an amorphous and meaningless grab-bag which can swallow up every thought in the world. The latter, at least, is a common practice within evo psych, but please. Hume was a philosopher. He was not a psychologist, a biologist, or a chemist. He was not doing science, even though he thought a lot about science.

I probably know more about the biological side of how the brain functions than Pinker does, with my background in neuroscience, cell biology, and molecular biology. But I have no illusions. If I could travel in time to visit Hume or Spinoza, I might be able to deliver the occasional enlightening fact that they would find interesting, but most of my knowledge would be irrelevant to their concerns, while their ideas would have broader applicability and would enlighten me. When I imagine visiting these great contributors to the philosophy of science (Hume and Bacon would be at the top of my list), I see myself as a supplicant, hoping to learn more, not as the font of wisdom come to deliver them from their errors. Alright, I might argue some with them, but Jesus…they have their own domains of understanding in which they are acknowledged masters, domains in which I am only a dabbler.

He’s committing the fallacy of progress and scientism. There is no denying that we have better knowledge of science and engineering now, but that does not mean that we’re universally better, smarter, wiser, and more informed about everything. What I know would be utterly useless to a native hunter in New Guinea, or to an 18th century philosopher; it’s useful within a specific context, in a narrow subdomain of a 21st technological society. I think Pinker’s fantasy is not one of informing a knowledgeable person, but of imposing the imagined authority of a modern science on someone from a less technologically advanced culture.

It’s actually an encounter I’d love to see happen. I don’t think evolutionary psychology would hold up at all under the inquisitory scrutiny of Hume.

I tried to put myself in the place of one of my colleagues outside the sciences reading that essay, and when I did that, I choked on the title: “Science Is Not Your Enemy: An impassioned plea to neglected novelists, embattled professors, and tenure-less historians”. How condescending! I know there are a few odd professors out there who have some bizarre ideas about science — they’re as ignorant of science as Pinker seems to be of the humanities — but the majority of the people I talk to who are professors of English or Philosophy or Art or whatever do not have the idea at all that science is an enemy. They see it as a complementary discipline that’s prone to a kind of overweening imperialism. I get that: I feel the same way when I see physicists condescend to mere biologists. We’re just a subset of physics, don’t you know, and don’t really have an independent history, a novel perspective and a deep understanding of a very different set of problems than the ones physicists study.

Just as biologists freely use the tools of physics, scholars in the humanities will use the tools of science where appropriate and helpful. They do not therefore bow down in fealty to the one true intellectual discipline, great Science. I have never known a one to reject rigor, analysis, data collection, or statistics and measurement…although they can get rather pissy if you try to tell them that the basic tools of the academic are copyright Science.

And, dear god, Pinker tells this ridiculous and offensive anecdote:

Several university presidents and provosts have lamented to me that when a scientist comes into their office, it’s to announce some exciting new research opportunity and demand the resources to pursue it. When a humanities scholar drops by, it’s to plead for respect for the way things have always been done.

Oh, fucking nonsense. Humanities scholars are just as interested in making new discoveries as evolutionary psychologists, and are just as enthusiastic about pursuing ideas. What I’ve seen is that university presidents and provosts are typically completely clueless about what scholars do — does anyone really believe Larry Summers had the slightest appreciation of the virtues of knowledge? — so it’s bizarre in the first place to cite the opinions of our administrative bureaucrats. What this anecdote actually translates to is that a scientist stops by with an idea that needs funding that will lead to big grants and possible patent opportunities, and president’s brain goes KA-CHING; humanities scholar stops by with a great insight about French Impressionism or the history of the Spanish Civil War, asks for travel funds (or more likely, pennies for paper and ink), and president’s brain fizzles and can’t figure out how this will bring in a million dollar NIH grant, so what good is it? Why can’t this deadwood get with it and do something with cancer genes or clinical trials?

Perhaps I would have been more receptive to Pinker’s message if I hadn’t sat through a meeting this afternoon with an administrator from the big campus in Minneapolis/St Paul. It was a strange meeting; he’s clearly got grand plans that are of benefit to us, he’s supportive of science, but this was a meeting attended by research faculty in all of the campus disciplines: science, humanities, social sciences, the arts. It was odd to hear all the talk that was focused on a purely science-oriented strategy, when there were all these people around me who are doing research that doesn’t involve equipment grants, NIH funding, and patent opportunities. One of my colleagues spoke up and mentioned that he seemed to be treating the humanities as supporting infrastructure for biology or chemistry, rather than as a respectable scholarly endeavor in its own right.

I was feeling the same way. I’m a biologist, but I do biology because it’s beautiful and I love it and it inspires students. This was all about doing science because it brings in big money to the university. What was in my head was this quote from D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson:

“The harmony of the world is made manifest in Form and Number, and the heart and soul and all the poetry of Natural Philosophy are embodied in the concept of mathematical beauty.”

Substitute “Science” for “Natural Philosophy” (a perfectly reasonable replacement, given what Thompson understood the phrase to mean), and you’ve got a rebuttal to scientism. Heart, soul, poetry, beauty are not grist for the analytical mill of science, but they really are the core, and if you don’t appreciate that, the breadth of your education is lacking.

I’ve been harsh to Pinker’s claims, but you probably shouldn’t see it as a disagreement. Read further into his essay, if you can bear it, and you’ll discover that rather than rejecting scientism he proudly claims it for his own. To accuse him of scientism is no insult, then; it’s only the term for what he happily embraces.

I don’t think I’ll join him in that isolation tank, though.


Dammit. It used to be that I was the guy with a reputation for vehemence, but I’ve got nothin’ on this.

185 comments

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  1. 1
    maudell

    I think he’s auditioning for Fox News next strawman evil elitist liberal.

  2. 2
    imthegenieicandoanything

    Well-said, PZ!

    Is anything more tiresome than a know-it-all who clearly doesn’t, even when declaring the world and its denizens to be whatever best flatters his (and isn’t it pretty much always “his”) own position – and ego?

    It’s a BIG world out there, and that’s just the human being part. The earth and the universe are a lot stranger than we CAN know (as someone smarter than me who I can’t recall the name of at the moment said.) And, most of the time, I really LOVE that fact!

    Can anyone direct me to something by Pinker that doesn’t make him look like a vain asshat?

  3. 3
    chimera

    Gorgeous. Thank you P.Z.

  4. 4
    PZ Myers

    Nah, I can’t get too enthused. There’s a bit of despair here — lately I’ve been pissing off every big name skeptic/atheist/scientist on the planet, I think, and I can’t do anything else.

  5. 5
    Jadehawk

    this deserves a reading: In Which Steven Pinker Is A Total Ignoramus Who Should Go Read A Fucking Book And Get Himself Some Fucking Education

    Favorite part:

    Of the thinkers that he lists, Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz are the only ones who actually conducted anything that might even remotely fit the bill of “scientific experimentation.” Smith was an economist. Rousseau was a dilettante. Kant…I mean, the idea of describing Kant as a an “evolutionary psychologist” is just…OMFG.

  6. 6
    Randomfactor

    I WOULD like to have heard what the great pre-1850 thinkers would’ve done with the concept of evolution via natural selection, though–simple enough to convey to an intelligent person. Jefferson in particular, I think, would’ve grabbed the idea with great glee. Couple that with the idea of the Big Bang and he might have had no need for deism.

  7. 7
    eigenperson

    While I completely agree with parts of Pinker’s article, there is a lot of stuff that is breathtakingly arrogant. Does Pinker really think that literary studies, for example, can be revolutionized by linguistics, cog psych, behavioral genetics, and evo psych? What kind of experiments would he perform? What hypotheses might be generated and tested?

    Most importantly, by doing so, would we find out more about literature than we do by reading and analyzing it in the traditional way? I don’t think so.

  8. 8
    eigenperson

    Oh, and I forgot to mention: is Pinker really serious in saying that “Descartes, Spinoza, Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Rousseau, Leibniz, Kant, [and] Smith” were evolutionary psychologists?

    He HAS to be joking, right?

  9. 9
    Robby Bensinger

    P.Z. — I think you should probably qualify some of your above claims. It’s not intellectually honest to baldly say “you’ll discover that rather than rejecting scientism he proudly claims it for his own” when you’ve explicitly defined “scientism” one way, and he’s explicitly defined it in a radically different way. Your definition of “scientism” above is “only science is the proper mode of human thought”. I’d need to hear more about how you’re defining “science” in order to fully appreciate the content of this, but it’s already clear that none of the people accused of ‘scientism’ endorse that view (it’s a straw man, which is one of the central points of the essay, and one you don’t even acknowledge is raised), including Pinker.

    The term “scientism” is anything but clear, more of a boo-word than a label for any coherent doctrine. Sometimes it is equated with lunatic positions, such as that “science is all that matters” or that “scientists should be entrusted to solve all problems.” Sometimes it is clarified with adjectives like “simplistic,” “naïve,” and “vulgar.” The definitional vacuum allows me to replicate gay activists’ flaunting of “queer” and appropriate the pejorative for a position I am prepared to defend.

    Scientism, in this good sense, is not the belief that members of the occupational guild called “science” are particularly wise or noble. On the contrary, the defining practices of science, including open debate, peer review, and double-blind methods, are explicitly designed to circumvent the errors and sins to which scientists, being human, are vulnerable. Scientism does not mean that all current scientific hypotheses are true; most new ones are not, since the cycle of conjecture and refutation is the lifeblood of science. It is not an imperialistic drive to occupy the humanities; the promise of science is to enrich and diversify the intellectual tools of humanistic scholarship, not to obliterate them.

    To accuse Pinker of rejecting the value of art or philosophy or the humanities generally, when he spends such length in the very essay you’re talking about extolling their crucial importance — if they weren’t important, he wouldn’t care that scientific knowledge and methods are being underutilized in the humanities — is sloppy scholarship. Again, quoting the very essay you’re responding to: “No thinking person should be indifferent to our society’s disinvestment from the humanities, which are indispensable to a civilized democracy.” I’m disappointed in this superficial treatment.

  10. 10
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    He HAS to be joking, right?

    Being an evolutionary psychologist, he is used to people believing what he says without a shred of evidence to back it up….Par for the course, and the course is going over Niagara Falls if that roar in the distance means anything.

  11. 11
    Inaji

    “Science Is Not Your Enemy: An impassioned plea to neglected novelists, embattled professors, and tenure-less historians”.

    Jesus Fuckin’ Christ. I’m an artist. I love art, it’s my passion, it’s my breath, my heartbeat. I have never considered science my enemy. I love science, I love all the discovery, and I love all the learning I do. That said, there’s no need to make me and millions of other people feel like we do absolute shit and contribute nothing at all.

  12. 12
    Inaji

    if they weren’t important, he wouldn’t care that scientific knowledge and methods are being underutilized in the humanities

    Golly, I guess they aren’t important unless they utilize scientific knowledge and methods, measured to Pinker’s personal standard. He’s an asshole.

  13. 13
    PZ Myers

    #9: I did consider what he said, and wasn’t particularly impressed with his token nod to the humanities.

    Did you pay no attention to the title, or the first two paragraphs? Or the anecdote I excerpted? Those were appalling.

  14. 14
    PDX_Greg

    But please, also recognize that there’s more to the human experience than measurement and the acquisition of knowledge about physical processes, and that science is a relatively recent and revolutionary way of thinking, but not the only one — and that humans lived and thrived and progressed for thousands of years (and many still do, even within our technological culture!) without even the concept of science.

    Sooooo much more. Very nicely put.

    Although not the same thing, and I don’t know what to call it, I believe scientism and this are ugly cousins: I remember how pervasive it was when I was younger to teach that the brain had to go through amazing numbers of calculations to catch a ball, land on your feet, or simply walk. This popular wisdom was at school and in news reports and documentaries as an amazing fact to ponder about our brains. I remember choking on this as I tried to absorb it. Apparently every living animal that could walk without stumbling, land without crashing, snatch a tasty bug out of the air, or climb a tree featured an unconscious lightning-quick mathematical genius that would shame the most gifted mathematician. Yet somehow, insects were very capable of all these same feats with amazing speed and grace. Where did they hide this amazing neural supercomputer?

  15. 15
    Jadehawk

    Science Is Not Your Enemy: An impassioned plea to neglected novelists, embattled professors, and tenure-less historians

    translation: “I don’t actually know shit about what you do and how you do it, but let me tell you how you should do what I think you do.”

    if they weren’t important, he wouldn’t care that scientific knowledge and methods are being underutilized in the humanities

    translation: “I also don’t know what you do, but I think it would be much better if you did it the way this guy tells you to, because we think you’re kinda less then useful the way we think you do things now, and we think you should be more useful, by our definition of useful”.

  16. 16
    Robby Bensinger

    I agree the subtitle was condescending and pointless. The essay itself seemed fine to me. All the historical claims he made were true, except that the “evolutionary” qualifiers are anachronisms for non-Darwinian thinkers. All these thinkers were doing empirical theorizing about human society and psychology, just as much as modern thinkers in those fields.

    It is not anachronistic to view Descartes and Hume as the godfathers of cognitive science, and many of the questions they wrestled with are at the very center of modern-day cog-sci disputes. Aside from discovering the effect of tidal friction on slowing the Earth’s rotation, Kant was the first thinker to come up with the nebular hypothesis, providing one of the foundational insights of cosmology. (Admittedly, this was underappreciated at the time.) Spinoza more or less invented the field of religious anthropology. Much of Descartes’ most influential work was in mathematics and physiology. We don’t need to say that everything they did was traditional laboratory science, or that their empirical investigations took place in a social context of peer review and journal articles, in order to acknowledge that a lot of their work was stuff that we would consider testable sociology, cognitive science, etc. if it were said today — and do consider it such, when it is! To say “Hume was a philosopher. He was not a psychologist” strikes me as a serious misunderstanding either of Hume, or of the relationship between the fields of philosophy and psychology. In many cases Hume’s claims about human nature have far less in common with contemporary philosophy of mind than they do with contemporary psychology.

    And, sure, Hume would teach me a whole lot if I could meet him. But I’d also be able to teach him a whole lot, and it’s not hubris to acknowledge that. Not every science is equally relevant to every practice, but some are more generalizable than others. The cognitive heuristics and biases literature, for example, tells us a whole lot about errors in reasoning and decision-making that can occur in just about any domain of reflective action and thought. Any of the philosophers listed would have a field day with that stuff. I don’t think there’s a sharp division between philosophy and science nowadays (philosophy of physics, for instance, is coextensive with a lot of theoretical physics), and, to the extent science existed at all, there was even less of a division a few hundred years ago.

  17. 17
    chimera

    Imthegenie: Can anyone direct me to something by Pinker that doesn’t make him look like a vain asshat?

    Here’s Pinker in 1987, a random page from Learnability and Cognition, The Acquisition of Argument Structure:

    7.5.3.2 Semantic and Syntactic Errors with Fill-type Verbs in the Same Children. A second task was presented to the same group of children to verify that they, like the children whose spontaneous speech errors have been reported in the literature, were prone to making fill the water-type syntactic errors. After children chose a sequence as depicting a given verb (which had always been presented to them in the argumentless gerund), they were asked to describe what was happening. The dependent measure was whether the theme/patient/content or the source/goal/container was used as the verb’s direct object…

    Here he’s straight, dry and technical. It’s the language of experimental psychology that he was trained in. The transition to a**hat occurred with The Language Instinct (1994), the international best seller in which he came out as an evolutionary psychologist.

  18. 18
    David Marjanović

    What I’ve seen is that university presidents and provosts are typically completely clueless about what scholars do —

    Question: how does one become a university president or provost in the USA? Over here, I don’t think there’s ever been a rector who wasn’t a professor (and gave up teaching and research to devote himself* to bureaucracy full-time).

    * Or herself, in very few very recent cases.

    this deserves a reading: In Which Steven Pinker Is A Total Ignoramus Who Should Go Read A Fucking Book And Get Himself Some Fucking Education

    Oh yes.

    I agree especially with the point that science didn’t really exist before the mid-19th century.

    Does Pinker really think that literary studies, for example, can be revolutionized by linguistics, cog psych, behavioral genetics, and evo psych? What kind of experiments would he perform? What hypotheses might be generated and tested?

    Hypotheses are being tested in literary studies all the time; I’ve seen it done. Linguistics, cognitive and (in theory) evolutionary psychology may well make it easier to make and test hypotheses about what authors were thinking and why they were thinking it that nobody would have thought of otherwise.

    But “revolutionized”? I think that’s a massive exaggeration.

    BTW, why experiments? Science requires observations; experiments are merely a convenient way of arranging opportunities for observations, that’s all. Historical sciences or astrophysics, where experiments largely cannot be done because the processes of interest are too distant in space and/or time, are no less science than solid-state physics is.

  19. 19
    F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

    David: I think one becomes university president, etc., in the States by being wealthy and sitting on six or seven boards of directors which are irrelevant to education and/or could be considered serious conflicts of interest.

  20. 20
    Robby Bensinger

    Quoth eigenperson:

    “While I completely agree with parts of Pinker’s article, there is a lot of stuff that is breathtakingly arrogant. Does Pinker really think that literary studies, for example, can be revolutionized by linguistics, cog psych, behavioral genetics, and evo psych? What kind of experiments would he perform? What hypotheses might be generated and tested?”

    This is already happening, actually, and it’s a wonderfully positive development. I’m delighted Pinker’s encouraging it. Are you familiar with recent work in corpus linguistics and text analysis?

    Caine: No? They’re useful, and they can be more useful as they come into greater contact with new sociological and psychological data. This should not be controversial among freethinkers. And it’s already happening, and enriching a large number of disciplines in the examples he provides of this interdisciplinary trend.

    Jadehawk: I work in the humanities (as traditionally defined), not the sciences.

    Also, I have to say that the tumblr article you linked is really argumentatively confused. It contradicts itself in some surprising ways, and even comes around to endorse Pinker’s thesis precisely in the second-to-last paragraph. It also either doesn’t seem to understand what Pinker means by words like ‘science’ or ‘indispensable’, or is indifferent to representing the arguments accurately. Are there better criticisms of this article out there? I’m really discouraged by the quality of scholarship in these so far.

    Randomfactor: I don’t think the Big Bang directly addresses Jefferson’s initial reasons for deism.

  21. 21
    Jadehawk

    To say “Hume was a philosopher. He was not a psychologist” strikes me as a serious misunderstanding either of Hume, or of the relationship between the fields of philosophy and psychology.

    I’ll just refer you to the link I already provided upthread

  22. 22
    Rutee Katreya

    I agree the subtitle was condescending and pointless. The essay itself seemed fine to me. All the historical claims he made were true, except that the “evolutionary” qualifiers are anachronisms for non-Darwinian thinkers. All these thinkers were doing empirical theorizing about human society and psychology, just as much as modern thinkers in those fields.

    Read their fucking body of work. This is just asinine. ‘empirical theorizing’ implies that they considered their claims fucking testable. For Madogoddess’ sake, he claims Thomas Fucking Hobbes, noted Tiger-Philosopher. Have you actually cracked open Leviathan at /all/?

    if they weren’t important, he wouldn’t care that scientific knowledge and methods are being underutilized in the humanities

    Either you’re both jackass enough to think that history isn’t already swimming day-in, day-out in empiricism, or you think it requires the experimental model. In which case, what’s your control?

  23. 23
    Rutee Katreya

    BTW, why experiments? Science requires observations; experiments are merely a convenient way of arranging opportunities for observations, that’s all. Historical sciences or astrophysics, where experiments largely cannot be done because the processes of interest are too distant in space and/or time, are no less science than solid-state physics is.

    Well, as you noted earlier, hypotheses are already being tested and examined, although not in the way that the Sciences claim it must be. What more is left but the experimental model?

    Also, the waifu considers this entirely amusing, because the humanities/sciences divide is just not really a thing in Denmark. It’s a distinction embedded in the English language that simply isn’t carried over into Danish, even if the natural sciences get way more funding and prestige amongst danes.

  24. 24
    Rutee Katreya

    Minor self correction. “although not in the way that some asshole scientists claim it must be”.

  25. 25
    Robby Bensinger

    “Read their fucking body of work. This is just asinine. ‘empirical theorizing’ implies that they considered their claims fucking testable. For Madogoddess’ sake, he claims Thomas Fucking Hobbes, noted Tiger-Philosopher. Have you actually cracked open Leviathan at /all/?”

    Are you suggesting that claims about whether monarchy v. democracy is more conducive to peace, about how states historically and pre-historically emerged, about the applicability of various game-theoretic models of zero-sum conflicts in human beings, and about the quality of life in pre-state societies (for example) are not scientifically testable? If not, then I must be missing your point. A little of it may be untestable in principle, and a lot of it is untestable in practice, but the latter is not an unusual state of affairs in contemporary science.

    Either you’re both jackass enough to think that history isn’t already swimming day-in, day-out in empiricism,

    The advent of more quantitative methods is certainly having a salutary effect on a lot of historical research and theorizing, and there’s more progress to be made. For that matter, there’s more progress to be made in improving the scientific calibur of a lot of the life sciences and physical sciences. History perhaps has some more obvious bright spots for quick improvement than, say, molecular biology. This is cause for optimism and a growth of interdisciplinary work, not for circle-the-wagons tribalism. (Nor for abusive language, for that matter.)

  26. 26
    Brian E

    Hume did lay out an method of sorts, gleaning up experience, to determine human nature. It sort of presages cognitive psychology, But it isn’t science or cognitive psychology.
    Oh, and Hume was a legend, would love to have gotten on the sauce, apparently he was a bonnie chap as well as a great thinker. The kicker being that the greatest philosopher of the English tongue was Scottish. :)

  27. 27
    chimera

    Robby: Cite some recent and interesting stuff in corpus linguistics and text analysis. Also, names of journals that carry it.

  28. 28
    eigenperson

    Robby Bensinger: I’m aware that this is happening in a vague sense; I don’t know the details. But I question the utility of it.

    To present a complete picture, I am not convinced that most lit crit is useful anyway. As someone who is not a humanities scholar, I find most of it irrelevant, even though I appreciate literature. But I think implementing Steven Pinker’s suggestions would move lit crit even further away from what is relevant to me.

    I don’t mean to base my argument against Pinker solely on the academic study of literature, which is not something I understand well or care much about. It may be that the relatively small community of academic literary theorists is fascinated by the idea of applying evo psych to lit crit, but in my mind literary theorists occupy a relatively small and unimportant corner of the community of people who analyze literature. People outside of university English departments also think about literature, and they do so in meaningful yet completely nonscientific ways. And I am not at all convinced that adding science to the picture, if that can indeed be done, is an improvement.

  29. 29
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    For that matter, there’s more progress to be made in improving the scientific calibur of a lot of the life sciences and physical sciences.

    Citation absolutely fucking needed. Why should we take your unsupported (evidenced) word as anything other than bullshit to be dismissed without evidence be Christopher Hitchens (#1)?

  30. 30
    Rutee Katreya

    If not, then I must be missing your point.

    If science is nothing more than a way to invent claims without having a responsibility to test them, then I fail to see how it’s a meaningful distinction from pretty much any human activity that involves conversation; who doesn’t make claims about reality? Fucking religions do, but it doesn’t make them science! I made dozens of claims talking about this diablolike or this other roguelike during my free time with the wife today, but that doesn’t make my conversation science. To say these people were scientists because they made claims is so obviously asinine that I’m forced to question if you’re being fucking serious – even if we weed out religion for ‘not making testable claims’ (They were bloody well testable until they were walked back), that still leaves everything else.

    The advent of more quantitative methods is certainly having a salutary effect on a lot of historical research and theorizing

    In that it improves the body of history, I most certainly agree. Empiricism in history is not limited to quantitative history, however – you need at least some evidence to arrive at any conclusion without stepping into pure fantasy.

  31. 31
    Robby Bensinger

    To respond to the tumblr link:

    (1) ‘Science’ is polysemic. It’s not an ahistorical coincidence that many people think of Thales as the father of science. There’s no need to endorse historical nuance only at the cost of linguistic nuance.

    (2) They called themselves ‘philosophers’, therefore they are philosophers and not scientists in the modern sense, q.e.d.? Um, no. The word ‘philosophy’ does not mean the same thing today as it did at the time, any more than does ‘science’. To assume otherwise is to be guilty of the same anachronism you’re accusing Pinker of.

    (3) Pinker deliberately chose capital-p Philosophers to make his point. If he’d chosen Boyle or Bacon then his point would have been much weaker, because those people are already seen as proto-scientists. The claim here is deliberately counter-intuitive, but on the money, especially inasmuch as ‘science’ and ‘philosophy’ are not crisply defined or disjoint classes.

    (4) As a historian and philosophy, the tumblr post makes me wince. Sneering ‘I know more about Kant than you!’, especially without serious supporting evidence, just comes off as childish.

    (5) “Stephen fucking Pinker, the great scientific genius, is going to go back in time to correct Spinoza’s arguments and ‘guide’ him.” – Spinoza would dearly love that. Spinoza was a cutting-edge pioneer of the social sciences; I can’t imagine how delighted he’d be to geek out over new discoveries and theoretical syntheses, e.g., in religious anthropology. I can’t decide whether you’re condescending more to modern scientists (by assuming none of their results are historically relevant), or condescending more to Spinoza (by assuming that his interests and arguments are totally impervious to empirical evidence).

    (6) “The idea that these thinkers wrote ‘in the absence of formal theory’ is so reductive and offensive.” – This is inattentive reading. Pinker is claiming that these thinkers lacked most of the relevant “formal theory and empirical data” we have today; he’s not claiming that they were totally bereft of any theory or data whatsoever (unless he’s assuming these those have to be rigorously quantitative).

    (7) “There were also theologians, who Pinker dismisses out of hand, even though ‘science’ would not exist without the precedent of Roger Bacon and Albertus Magnus.” – Dismissing their present-day relevance doesn’t mean dismissing their historical import. Theologians go in the box with the alchemists and astrologers.

    (8) “‘Science’ is a fully historical product of the regimentation, organization, and professionalization of what used to just be people observing the world and thinking about it. Science is the transformation of knowledge into a cliquish guild.” – Twenty seconds of reflection would make it clear that Pinker isn’t using “science” in that sense, and that this isn’t the only sense in which “science” is used today. (It might take a few weeks or months, on the other hand, to make it clear why this isn’t the most useful definition of science. But that’s definitely a worthwhile conversation to have.) If your core thesis is that you don’t like how Pinker is using a word, you should be more up-front about that.

    (9) “he doesn’t even realize the extent to which his critique of the humanities itself depends on ideas generated by the humanities.” – What’s your evidence that he doesn’t realize this, and what’s your evidence that this is relevant to his thesis? Showing that the dependence goes one way isn’t a proof that it goes any less the other way. On its face, the example you provide clearly goes against your point, because it shows Pinker explicitly acknowledging a debt to non-scientists.

    (10) “And where did this concept of epistemological relativism come from, exactly, if not from the humanities? ” – “Epistemological relativism”? Pinker is the furthest thing in the world from a relativist. The empirical data — the data of history, and more generally of the empirical study of science as a social practice — is what gives us reason to think that not all of our present conclusions will hold up forever. You’re attacking a view that as far as I can tell no one is affirming, sloppily.

    (11) “I’ve been a scholar in the humanities for a while now and I’ve never heard anybody accuse science of genocide.” – … Did you miss the part of the article where Pinker quoted examples? I’ve heard probably more than a hundred people blame scientism or the scientific world-view for some atrocity. You must travel in very narrow circles, if you’ve never even encountered this proposition. Possibly this explains why Pinker’s arguments seem to come out of the blue, and why you think he’s attacking a position he isn’t?

    (12) “To borrow a formulation from Descartes – you know, the philosopher – both art and politics ‘can be and be conceived” without any concept of “science.’” – … I honestly can’t tell whether you’re making fun of yourself or trying to give a serious argument here. Framing Pinker’s argument as ‘art, politics, and science are conceptually coextensive’ is deeply dishonest. And, once again, it suggests an unwillingness to carefully read and interpret works, or to acknowledge polysemy.

    (13) “Assholes like Steven Pinker think that people in the humanities resist their ideas because we don’t understand ‘science.’ But the truth is that many people in the humanities love and embrace the sciences: there are historians of science, there are digital humanities, there are philosophers of technology.” – … Pinker talks about this, with approval, in the very article you’re responding to. Did you just not read very much of the article?

    (14) “What causes genocide is the ignorant belief in an absolute formal distinction between two things where in fact there is only a spectrum.” – This seems to be a topic change, unless you think Pinker has anywhere denied that this contributes to genocide.

    The second-to-last paragraph of this essay could have been copy-pasted from Pinker’s essay, virtually unchanged. If you agree with all of Pinker’s points of substance, and just (inconsistently) dislike his decision to treat ‘science’ as a nebulous set of methods coextensive with a variety of fields instead of as a discrete, clearly-defined social institution with no overlap with the humanities… then what’s all the fuss about? The difference between “infusing” the humanities with science, and adopting scientific methods as tools to use in the humanities, is no difference at all, unless you’re carrying out the whole argument subtextually.

  32. 32
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    To assume otherwise is to be guilty of the same anachronism you’re accusing Pinker of.

    Not anachronism, sophistry by you and Pinker. Get the point? I doubt it, evidence is not your strong suit.

  33. 33
    David Marjanović

    Also, the waifu considers this entirely amusing, because the humanities/sciences divide is just not really a thing in Denmark. It’s a distinction embedded in the English language that simply isn’t carried over into Danish, even if the natural sciences get way more funding and prestige amongst danes.

    Same in German. Naturwissenschaften “nature sciences”, Geisteswissenschaften “mind sciences”.

    a lot of it is untestable in practice, but the latter is not an unusual state of affairs in contemporary science

    It is. String theory is highly unusual that way.

  34. 34
    David Marjanović

    Why should we take your unsupported (evidenced) word as anything other than bullshit to be dismissed without evidence be [?] Christopher Hitchens

    I’ve asked you before why you attribute that to Hitchens. Doesn’t it go back to, like, Aristotle at the very least?

  35. 35
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Doesn’t it go back to, like, Aristotle at the very least?

    I looked and it is ancient without a clear attribution, with Hitchens being the latest and most vocal proponent of the idea. Hence he is quoted.

  36. 36
    Jadehawk

    not for circle-the-wagons tribalism

    yes, that’s an accurate description of ppls arguments

  37. 37
    eigenperson

    #18 David Marjanović:

    BTW, why experiments? Science requires observations; experiments are merely a convenient way of arranging opportunities for observations, that’s all. Historical sciences or astrophysics, where experiments largely cannot be done because the processes of interest are too distant in space and/or time, are no less science than solid-state physics is.

    I didn’t mean to exclude observation. But I do find it hard to see how we would, for example, acquire “insight about readers’ ability to reconcile their own consciousness with those of the author and characters” without doing experiments.

  38. 38
    Rutee Katreya

    Same in German. Naturwissenschaften “nature sciences”, Geisteswissenschaften “mind sciences”.

    See, she said ‘continental germanic languages’, but I, for whatever stupid reason, doubted her despite knowing for a fact she at least speaks german. I was clearly wrong to.

  39. 39
    Rutee Katreya

    …Oh, I get it. Pinker is trying to make science into a way to invent claims without a responsibility to test them so that he can claim evopsych is science. It all makes sense now.

  40. 40
    Enkidum

    I think this is being way too humble. Hume and Descartes in particular would have had their fucking socks knocked off by what we now know. I mean, Descartes genuinely believed in a mind/body interaction that occurred at a particular place in the brain – are you seriously suggesting he would have kept that belief in the face of modern neuroscience? We have words for people who still believe in that, and they aren’t very flattering ones. And this was not some little sidebar of Descartes’ beliefs about the world, this was an absolutely central component for him. If he wouldn’t radically alter his theory after reading about neuroscience, then I would lose all respect for him. And that’s just one example of how modern scientific knowledge would negatively affect his work, there are positive ones as well – he would have been utterly obsessed with things like signal detection theory and our understanding of sensory systems in general, since he spent so much time writing about them.

    Pinker’s a cocky S.O.B. for sure, and has been for years now, and he’s definitely going too far in one direction, but PZ is going too far in the other direction. When he says

    he has to realize that for many people, that IS what scientism means.

    That being said, having a background in arts and philosophy myself (although I’m now a capital-S Scientist), I certainly do agree that people like Pinker are ridiculously dismissive of fields of study of which they have little understanding.

  41. 41
    Enkidum

    Shit, blockquote fail. After “when he says”, there should have been “I have a rigorous enough expectation of what knowledge represents to reject other claims of knowledge outside of the empirical collection of information.”.

  42. 42
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    but PZ is going too far in the other direction. When he says

    How is he going too far? It isn’t obvious except to a Pinker fanboi….

  43. 43
    Rutee Katreya

    That’s a pretty reasonable claim with the correction to not make it a nonsequitur, Nerd.

    More lighthearted…

    Nah, I can’t get too enthused. There’s a bit of despair here — lately I’ve been pissing off every big name skeptic/atheist/scientist on the planet, I think, and I can’t do anything else.

    Cheer up, PZ! I’m pretty sure you haven’t pissed off Neil DeGrasse Tyson (I know, I know, communicator) or Stephen Hawking yet. If you want to work on the latter, try getting another uneducated person to go “…that doesn’t seem right” and teach themselves advanced physics just to disprove him :D :D :D

  44. 44
    ChasCPeterson
    not for circle-the-wagons tribalism

    7 unoint
    yes, that’s an accurate description of ppls arguments

    lol; classic.
    Can you even tell the difference between making arguments and tribal wagon-circling?
    Often, both can happen in the same thread.
    If you’re one of the pplz making arguments, then you can assume you’re not being referred to by the guy who referred to tribal wagon-circling (not, in this case, me!).
    If, however, you’re engaging in tribal wagon-circling instead, then the guy was talking to you.
    Sometimes, you might be making arguments, but most of the other people that agree with you are just TW-Cing; that happens! It’s good to be able to recognize these activities as different, especially when you’re all In Agreement and shit, because you want to watch out for the times when you‘re just TW-Cing when you think you’re making arguments instead.
    It can happen.

  45. 45
    ChasCPeterson

    7 unoint.
    That bears repeating.
    (no idea)

  46. 46
    ChasCPeterson

    I haven’t read Pinker’s piece or the several reactions to it (Coyne loved it, Ross Douthat did not), including PZ’s OP, so I won’t weigh in.
    But meta: it is fun trying to figure out what Nerd is doing here.
    As far as I can tell: arguing with people who are suggesting that PZ’s notion of ‘scientism’ (i.e., always demanding evidence) is missing Pinker’s point by demanding evidence from them, because he’s heard that Pinker is an evolutionary psychologist and so he must be wrong about this too, if PZ sez so. Can that be right?

  47. 47
    brucegee1962

    I’m a bit of a dualist, in that I believe there is a material world that is properly explored through science, and a world of emotions and psyche (I won’t say a “spiritual” world due to all the bad connotations) but something that can be explored through art, poetry, music, and the languages of symbolism.

    I think that many of the unfortunate things going on in the world happen when people use the tools appropriate to one area in the other area. Have you ever seen a literary critic of a certain stripe try to analyze the appeal of a particular poet by calculating word usage, or vowel-to-consonant ratio, or some other “scientific” method? The results aren’t pretty — about as bad as the opposite, trying to us spells or prayers to affect the weather.

  48. 48
    Eric O

    This reminds me of an argument I had online with someone just a few weeks ago. He started dissing the humanities and social sciences, claiming that they were all heavily influenced by post-modernism and hostility to the natural sciences. When I mentioned that I had a background in anthropology (technically, I’m an archaeologist, but a firm understanding of anthropology and anthropological theory are a fundamental aspect of the field) and tried to explain the various ways that anthropologists have utilized the natural sciences to improve their understanding of human societies, he tried to convince me that everything I had learned in university was post-modern drivel. I’m amazed by the hubris of some people.

    Closer to the topic at hand, he also recommended that I read a certain book that so elegantly critiques the “modern denial of human nature”. Guess which one!

  49. 49
    whiskeyjack

    This kind of reminds me of reading “Bad Science” by Ben Goldacre. It was a good book, don’t get me wrong, and I’m totally down with the critical thinking and all. But it did seem that he took a lot of potshots at “humanities majors”. Nothing he said was glaringly offensive, mind you, but by the time I got to the end I couldn’t help but feel that he really didn’t have much respect for us wordy-types. It’s like… science needs to be communicated better, so let’s teach the scientists to communicate. That’s simple enough. Oh, those people who are trained communicators? Nah, they’ll never understand the sciencey bits, and besides, anyone can write if they put their minds to it. Writing is either utilitarian or worthless, amirite?

  50. 50
    Jadehawk

    lol; classic.
    Can you even tell the difference between making arguments and tribal wagon-circling?

    yes, which is how I know the latter hasn’t happened and therefore the former is what is being strawmanned as such. But I’m glad you enjoyed being an asshole about this so much

  51. 51
    Avo, also nigelTheBold

    Science requires observations; experiments are merely a convenient way of arranging opportunities for observations, that’s all.

    Wow. That’s all? Not last I checked.

    Experiments, and the modern practice of the scientific method, are designed to mitigate the effects of bias. This isn’t just about creating convenient opportunities for observation. It’s about ensuring that our cognitive flaws don’t intrude too much on our observations.

  52. 52
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    These thinkers—Descartes, Spinoza, Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Rousseau, Leibniz, Kant, Smith—are all the more remarkable for having crafted their ideas in the absence of formal theory and empirical data. The mathematical theories of information, computation, and games had yet to be invented. The words “neuron,” “hormone,” and “gene” meant nothing to them. When reading these thinkers, I often long to travel back in time and offer them some bit of twenty-first-century freshman science that would fill a gap in their arguments or guide them around a stumbling block. What would these Fausts have given for such knowledge? What could they have done with it?

    This is hilariously arrogant. I do often wonder, though, how real knowledge of, say, evolution would have affected the philosophies of many great thinkers. Descartes’ and Kant’s thinking was limited and distorted by speciesism (a bias inherited by Pinker, EP in general, and most of global culture). If they came to understand the basic science of evolution, how would it alter their ideas, if at all?

    I firmly believe that evolutionary knowledge in the long run will tend to contribute to overcoming speciesism and so to an advance in understanding and well-being (and vice versa). But this doesn’t mean anything about the effects of evolutionary knowledge on individuals in the short and medium term. The answer to the question of what any specific person will do with evolutionary knowledge requires a knowledge of their personality and their complex situation in their historical context, and still will be only probabilities. It’s not a simple matter of intelligence* or preexisting political views. (Examining which social factors shaped people’s reception of evolutionary theory in the nineteenth century would be fascinating…)

    Right now, Pinker’s understanding of evolution and its meaning for humans is distorted by his speciesism, sexism, racism, and other aspects of his conservative ideology. (This can’t be blamed on the extent of evolutionary knowledge – he was surpassed by Darwin in many, many ways.) He can continue along this comfortable path, and, whatever acclaim he receives now, 50 years from now he’ll be at best a footnote and at worst a commonly used example of 20th/21st-century reactionary pseudoscience. Or he can step back and examine his prejudices and how they’ve warped his understanding.

    In any case, there’s no reason to expect evolutionary science to be any sort of political savior. But, in combination with liberation movements, it has potential.

    *If it were, I wouldn’t be talking about Pinker and these philosophers in the same breath.

  53. 53
    Alastair B

    Loving Robby Bensinger’s work on here. Particularly the take down of that Tumblr. I assume from it’s title that it’s sort of an in joke to just be constantly swearing, angry, arrogant and unpleasant but sort of ironic since a major beef seems to be Pinker’s arrogance and rudeness towards the humanities… Could make a similar point about many of the comments above for that matter…

  54. 54
    Crudely Wrott

    PZ wrote:

    Heart, soul, poetry, beauty are not grist for the analytical mill of science, but they really are the core, and if you don’t appreciate that, the breadth of your education is lacking.

    That a simple declarative statement can stir the heart and soul as deeply as the poets have done is, itself, a thing of beauty.

    Thank you, PZ. You confirm what I have long sensed. That we do science not primarily to make new things or to change the things that are but because the doing of science creates within us all a vaster beauty and instructs the mind how to apprehend it.

  55. 55
    natselrox

    I couldn’t log in here with my usual WordPress account and had to create a separate one for FtB. Is that a known problem or is it just me?

    I’ll just list the problems that I found with PZ’s article.

    1. You mention that in your efforts to debunk someone’s claim for the existence of a supernatural god, you are not asking them to adopt the protocols of science. And yet you mention in the very next paragraph that science is our only tool for probing the nature of material reality. I see a bit of a contradiction here. When you debunk the claims for the existence of god, you are specifically pointing out the flaws in their arguments regarding the existence of a ‘material’ god who does things that are physical and part of the ‘material reality’ that you mention. To show to someone that prayers do not yield results, I don’t see how can do that without a rudimentary application of the scientific method.

    2. “But please, also recognize that there’s more to the human experience than measurement and the acquisition of knowledge about physical processes, and that science is a relatively recent and revolutionary way of thinking, but not the only one — and that humans lived and thrived and progressed for thousands of years (and many still do, even within our technological culture!) without even the concept of science.”

    This is the sort of wishy-washy relativistic nonsense that irk me. Of course, there’s more to human experience than measurement and acquisition of knowledge about physical processes. But that is not to say that human life “thrived and progressed” the same way before and after the advent of science (as you seem to imply).

    3. I don’t think evolutionary psychology would hold up at all under the inquisitory scrutiny of Hume.

    Hah! True that! I agree with this part of the whole article. I think it’d be supremely arrogant of us to assume that we could go back in time and enlighten some of the persons whose names Pinker drops off in the article in an offhanded manner while mis-labeling their works in a weird way. Having said that, I, for one, would love to see what Kant and Descartes would have to say about modern neuroscience and the idea of evolution by natural selection.

    4. Heart, soul, poetry, beauty are not grist for the analytical mill of science, but they really are the core, and if you don’t appreciate that, the breadth of your education is lacking.

    This is wrong at so many levels, it’s emotive, condescending, attacks a straw version of science, and makes a claim (core, what core?) that makes no sense.

  56. 56
    Rutee Katreya

    Loving Robby Bensinger’s work on here. Particularly the take down of that Tumblr. I assume from it’s title that it’s sort of an in joke to just be constantly swearing, angry, arrogant and unpleasant but sort of ironic since a major beef seems to be Pinker’s arrogance and rudeness towards the humanities… Could make a similar point about many of the comments above for that matter…

    Reminder: The fucker insists that philosophers did science because they made testable claims.

  57. 57
    coelsblog

    PZ Myers:

    Scientism is the idea that only science is the proper mode of human thought …

    The trouble with this whole “scientism” debate is that different people have different ideas of what “scientism” means. Those who reject scientism use definitions (such as PZ’s) that no-one actually holds to. Those that do embrace scientism use more sensible definitions. The debate would be more productive if people acknowledged what their opponents mean by the word.

  58. 58
    coelsblog

    I should have added, this dispute is not only about what “scientism” means but what “science” means. e.g.:

    PZ: Hume was a philosopher. …He was not doing science, even though he thought a lot about science.

    But thinking a lot about science can be a form of science. If you’re thinking about humans, what we are, where we come from, why we are like we are, and if you’re doing your best to assess that on reason and evidence, then you’re doing science.

    “The harmony of the world is made manifest in Form and Number, and the heart and soul and all the poetry of [science] are embodied in the concept of mathematical beauty.”

    PZ regards that as a “rebuttal of scientism”. Hmm, I don’t see how that rebuts scientism at all. Anyone suggesting it does is not using the word “scientism” in the way that defenders of scientism would intend it.

  59. 59
    susanvan

    I agree with coelsblog.

    Lately I’ve been noticing how people use word “science” in an equivocal way. In one part of their argument they mean science as in the way things really are. And in the next breath they use science to mean our understanding of the way things really are. Then they will say something dumb like “Science changes over time.” This is not true by the first definition, but completely true by the second. What they really mean is “Our ability to understand science changes.”

    P.Z. is making the same error. He dismisses scientism because it is the the mode of proper human thought. But, duh, science is the only mode of human thought.

  60. 60
    Sastra

    I think Pinker’s fantasy is not one of informing a knowledgeable person, but of imposing the imagined authority of a modern science on someone from a less technologically advanced culture.

    I don’t think Pinker’s focus is on advanced technology. It’s deeper than that. What he’s discussing in this essay (which I liked very much) is the scientific mindset — and how it changes the way people think. The Enlightenment gave birth to modern science because of a huge confluence of factors and therefore the same threads run through science proper as run through the philosophy of humanism. It can’t be — shouldn’t be — separated into a narrow sphere with no connections.

    Pinker is defining science much more broadly then than I think PZ is. He’s focusing on its unique commitment to be “intelligible” — to “explain a complex happening in terms of deeper principles” — and its commitment to develop “work-arounds for our cognitive limitations” because we are very, very good at fooling ourselves if we do not. Humanism is a ‘scientific’ way of approaching philosophy. Early humanists all shared this approach. That’s why we stick them in the category of ‘early humanists,’ presumably.

    As for embracing the word “scientism” by defining it in a way that makes sense vs. refuting the term due to the bad definitions out there, that may be a matter of tactics and I’m not sure either approach is obviously the right one. I suppose this argument has a parallel in the debate on whether to admit that the word “atheist” is so tainted by its association with “hatred of God” and negativity that we need to eschew it … or to simply take the word and stand by it proudly, scorning the bad interpretations. Personally, I’d deny ‘scientism’ and advocate for ‘atheism’ — but the debate over that isn’t of monumental importance in the grand scheme of things. I can understand why Pinker thinks it might work.

  61. 61
    Rutee Katreya

    But thinking a lot about science can be a form of science.

    That can only be true if you operate under a broad definition of sciences that doesn’t suggest the ‘humanities’ aren’t sciences. You can operate under that definition – tons of non-english speakers do. But Pinker is not, and makes his posts assuming that division. In fact, Pinker’s post ONLY makes sense if you have that division, and have that division as a very, very hard divide indeed.

    But, duh, science is the only mode of human thought.

    It is immediately obvious to the most casual observer of the meanest intelligence that this is not true. If this were, it wouldn’t be so bloody hard to set up safeguards against human cognitive biases. Science, and especially EXPLAINING science, is fucking hard precisely because it isn’t remotely close to the ‘natural’ mode of human thought.

  62. 62
    gussnarp

    I’m inclined to disagree with your opening paragraphs, but I’m not sure I can effectively mount a rebuttal with only the vague disquiet they raised in me. Most of the part after the excerpt from Pinker I found myself more in agreement with. I am, wholeheartedly, a believer in a broad based liberal arts education, and while I’m a supporter of better science education, I don’t think that should mean we forget the humanities, much less underfund them.

    But there are two concrete nits I would pick: First, I utterly reject the very notion of scientism. I think the word itself should be scrubbed from the language. It is merely a pejorative invented by creationists to slime anyone who understands and accepts the most basic scientific knowledge. I don’t even think Pinker’s writing is scientism, certainly not as the religious use the term. So I wouldn’t use it for anything. Not even for people who put science on a pedestal above the humanities.

    Second is this:

    science is a relatively recent and revolutionary way of thinking

    That’s only true if you work from a very narrow view of what science is. If science is only the strict scientific method, with a clearly stated hypothesis that’s called a hypothesis, experimental controls, double blinding, and statistical analysis of results, then yes, it’s relatively recent and revolutionary. But the heart of the scientific method has been with mankind much longer than the ability to carefully describe it and use math to quantify it. When the first group of hunter gatherers asked a prisoner from another tribe to try a new berry first to see if they got sick or died, they were applying the scientific method. The hypothesis was that they this potential new food was actually poisonous. The control group was the members of the tribe who didn’t try the new food. There was no blinding, no math, but it was fundamentally learning about the natural world through experimentation. It was science. And even if that bit of prehistoric lore is utter fiction, even if it was apes who first figured out what they could and couldn’t eat and passed down that knowledge, it still basically holds.

  63. 63
    susanvan

    Rutee Katreya,
    Sounds like somebody needs to be put in an fMRI and asked to think something in a mode that cannot be understood by science.

  64. 64
    gussnarp

    The thing I find odd about Pinker labeling philosophers as scientists is that he’s got it exactly backwards. In reality, scientists are also philosophers. Thinking back to those ancients, philosophy was what anyone who systematically tried to understand the world was doing, at least if they were doing it for the sake of knowledge, and not for some mundane task directly before them. Philosophy was the term for any kind of systematized attempt to gain knowledge, whether you were simply thinking about things and trying to structure those thoughts and make sense of the world that way, or taking the next step and testing to see if the world was round and how big it was by measuring shadows, you were still a philosopher. It was only later that the need came to delineate these things and natural philosophy was separated to later become science. So in a way, all of academia, including all of science, consists of subsets of philosophy. There’s a reason, after all, that academics all get PhDs.

    In light of that I have some degree of sympathy for Pinker’s attempt to claim all sorts of people as belonging to his favorite sciences. My training is in geography, and geographers like to claim all sorts of scientists from the enlightenment, as well as ancient Greek philosophers, as geographers. Basically if they worked out in nature, rather than in the lab, we claim them. Darwin was, in essence, a geographer. It was the spatial distribution of species that played a key role in his theory.

  65. 65
    Enkidum

    @susanvan

    Uh… I think there’s a fair case to be made that the first of the definitions you give is just wrong. Science doesn’t mean “the way things are”, at least not most of the time. And I’m not sure what your second paragraph means at all.

  66. 66
    susanvan

    2nd paragraph simply means that everything in the world is science. There is nothing else. There are no other magical modes of thought that are not science.

  67. 67
    coelsblog

    61 Rutee Katreya:

    In fact, Pinker’s post ONLY makes sense if you have that division, and have that division as a very, very hard divide indeed.

    I read Pinker differently, I don’t see him making that hard divide, I see him arguing that the humanities, when done well, are just as “scientific” (broadly defined), and thus part of science (broadly defined). That’s the stance most defenders of scientism adopt, that it doesn’t make sense to have any clear-cut divide between studying humans and studying the rest of the universe.

  68. 68
    Rutee Katreya

    Sounds like somebody needs to be put in an fMRI and asked to think something in a mode that cannot be understood by science.

    “Science is the only mode of thought” != “People think in ways taht can be understood by science”. Try harder.

    I read Pinker differently, I don’t see him making that hard divide, I see him arguing that the humanities, when done well,

    You can read whatever you want. For all I care, you can say the paper was a call for free ice cream for all and sundry. It’s just not true.

    One would think that writers in the humanities would be delighted and energized by the efflorescence of new ideas from the sciences. But one would be wrong. Though everyone endorses science when it can cure disease, monitor the environment, or bash political opponents, the intrusion of science into the territories of the humanities has been deeply resented.

    Though science is beneficially embedded in our material, moral, and intellectual lives, many of our cultural institutions, including the liberal arts programs of many universities, cultivate a philistine indifference to science that shades into contempt. Students can graduate from elite colleges with a trifling exposure to science. They are commonly misinformed that scientists no longer care about truth but merely chase the fashions of shifting paradigms. A demonization campaign anachronistically impugns science for crimes that are as old as civilization, including racism, slavery, conquest, and genocide.

    This, incidentally, is hilarious to me because although that’s true, at least in my limited experience it’s the technical universities that are creating this indifference. The various humanities majors I know are the best acquainted with science aside from the actual scientists. The programmers, the engineers, the economist (I only know one personally, sue me), the doctors… they have weaker backgrounds on the whole (Though I still knew exceptions in each category). Moving along to Pinker showing his giant-ass divide (Which I don’t blame him for as such, it’s built into the english language)

    Diagnoses of the malaise of the humanities rightly point to anti-intellectual trends in our culture and to the commercialization of our universities. But an honest appraisal would have to acknowledge that some of the damage is self-inflicted. The humanities have yet to recover from the disaster of postmodernism, with its defiant obscurantism, dogmatic relativism, and suffocating political correctness. And they have failed to define a progressive agenda. Several university presidents and provosts have lamented to me that when a scientist comes into their office, it’s to announce some exciting new research opportunity and demand the resources to pursue it. When a humanities scholar drops by, it’s to plead for respect for the way things have always been done.

    But no, he isn’t perpetuating the divide between science and the humanities that english built for itself, no sirree bob.

    At a 2011 conference, another colleague summed up what she thought was the mixed legacy of science: the eradication of smallpox on the one hand; the Tuskegee syphilis study on the other. (In that study, another bloody shirt in the standard narrative about the evils of science, public-health researchers beginning in 1932 tracked the progression of untreated, latent syphilis in a sample of impoverished African Americans.) The comparison is obtuse. It assumes that the study was the unavoidable dark side of scientific progress as opposed to a universally deplored breach, and it compares a one-time failure to prevent harm to a few dozen people with the prevention of hundreds of millions of deaths per century, in perpetuity.

    Sidenote: I’d like to point out that Pinker is now trying to pretend that the Tuskegee Smallpox Narrative is merely a ‘bloody shirt in the standard narrative’. It was a fucking outrage. White people running the study decided their data was more sacrosanct than the health of their students. It was a fucking turning point, when this got out in the general public, and was a factor in the creation of IRBs. I don’t believe for a second this is about the ‘evils of science’ but the evils of fucking humanity, but I don’t then try and minimize what the fuck happened. It was a fucking horrible thing, and Pinker seems to just be trying to let it slide as a minor deal blown out of proportion by ‘critics of scientism’. No, I assure you, it ain’t just ‘scientism critics’ who find it a fucking outrage, Mr. Pinker.

  69. 69
    Enkidum

    @susanvan
    Uh… yeah, then I just disagree with you entirely. This morning I spent a bunch of time thinking about what to have for breakfast. It wasn’t science, but it was thinking.

    And, for that matter, for most of my undergrad I spent a long time reading long-dead white men, thinking about what they had written, and writing detailed thoughts about the things they had written. There are, indeed, entire departments (faculties, even) of universities devoted to doing this, and doing related activities. These are not science either, but they are rigorous “modes of thought”. (That’s kind of PZ’s point, or one of them anyways.)

    Professional philosophers, for example, are definitely thinking in rigorous ways (at least many of them are), and are definitely not doing science, or at least most of them aren’t. There may not be a firm divide between philosophy and natural philosophy, nor should there be, but there is a lot of philosophy that clearly isn’t science.

    Also you seem to be engaging in the equivocation you were objecting to originally – “everything in the world is science” and “there are no magical modes of thought that are not science” are not even remotely equivalent statements (and I think both are completely false, but for completely different reasons).

  70. 70
    susanvan

    Try to argue your point in your last paragraph instead of just disagreeing with me.

    We are not talking about “doing” science. We are talking about what everything in the world “is” and that everything in the world could eventually be understood scientifically. Poetry, jokes, everything can be explained by science. Our thoughts are explainable by science.

  71. 71
    susanvan

    PZ says, “I’ve got enough breadth in my education and current experience to recognize that there are other ways [other than science] of progressing.”

    How does one progress without having thoughts or knowing things. He doesn’t give an example. Can anyone provide one?

  72. 72
    Rutee Katreya

    How does one progress without having thoughts or knowing things. He doesn’t give an example. Can anyone provide one?

    If that’s your definition of science, how is it a useful descriptor? I mean ffs, religious people have thoughts and know things.

  73. 73
    Enkidum

    To appropriate Rutee’s argument in the post above:

    “[All] Our thoughts are explainable by science” != “All our thoughts are scientific” != “Science is the only way of thinking”

    I do agree that thoughts are empirical things in the world, and that science is the best (in some sense the only) way of determining empirical facts about the world.

    If what you’re saying is that there are no aspects of reality that are in principle un-investigable by science, I’m not sure I agree, but I’m not sure I disagree either. For the sake of this argument, I’m certainly willing to accept that science can investigate everything, maybe even explain everything. But I don’t buy that it’s the only form of investigating things, nor the only appropriate one. Again, philosophers, literary critics, etc – these people are thinking rigorously about stuff in a non-scientific way – not necessarily an ANTI-scientific way, but a non-scientific one. So in that sense, which I can’t ignore, there are definitely non-scientific modes of thought, ways of thinking that are not science. (Hence my refusal to accept what you’re saying.)

    Finally, when you say “We are not talking about “doing” science”, I’m not sure who “we” is. Because if that “we” includes me, “we” most definitely are talking about “doing” science, because I flat out deny that “science” refers to anything other than “doing” science.

  74. 74
    Enkidum

    Holy shit there are a lot of quotation marks in my last couple of sentences.

  75. 75
    susanvan

    “religious people have thoughts and know things”

    That’s my point. Religious people’s thoughts are all scientifically explained. Why they have faith beliefs can be understood scientifically.

    That’s why when PZ says something dumb like there are other ways of progressing, it just throws those old religion-mongers a bone. “Ahha!” they cry, “The otherness is God’s domain–science can’t touch it.”

  76. 76
    Rutee Katreya

    That’s my point. Religious people’s thoughts are all scientifically explained. Why they have faith beliefs can be understood scientifically.

    Your point is trite and trivial. Having thoughts does not indicate thinking scientifically. Actually going through the steps to try to strip the various cognitive biases we know from our mind, to double check what we know against the facts, and to maintain communication on those things with people who are trained to shoot down our propositions is certainly thinking scientifiically. “I’m going to get pizza because I feel like pizza”, or “Trust me, that movie is terrible”, or “I know in my heart that Jesus Saved us from the lake of fire” is not indicative of a scientific mode of thought, regardless of whether the statement is true or not (Just so we’re clear, the last one is not).

    That’s why when PZ says something dumb like there are other ways of progressing, it just throws those old religion-mongers a bone. “Ahha!” they cry, “The otherness is God’s domain–science can’t touch it.”

    so you hate religious people so much, you can’t even stand to give other scholars credit for their due? Fuck, you are just a joy to be around.

  77. 77
    mikeyb

    I must have read a different article. Thought it was great. If you’ve read Pinker’s work you’ll find he has a highest respect for the humanities. and uses citations from stories and literature throughout his works. I dunno, agree to disagree.

  78. 78
    susanvan

    “Having thoughts does not indicate thinking scientifically.” I didn’t say that. The ability to think can be explained by science–not by gods. Why you feel like having a pizza, why you didn’t like the movie, why you think Jesus saved you can be explained by science.

    I do not hate religious people. Religion just doesn’t help us understand how the world works.

    Rutee Katreya, you swear instead of argue. Use your words, girl.

  79. 79
    drshell

    I’m an English professor and I confess to enjoying literary criticism. Literature is not organic, as much as my beloved Romantic poets wanted us to accept it as such. Poems and short stories and plays and novels are constructions. That’s why they are literature and not “real life.” In real life, if an owl hoots three times outside my window I have no reason to attach any significance to that event; if I’m a character in a story, that event may signify something very important. In fact, according to the demands of narrative coherence (as discussed at length by lit crit theorists) it had better mean something or it shouldn’t be there. (This is, of course, one of the narrative expectations that postmodern fiction attempts to subvert, making fictional constructions more like real life by throwing in hooting owls and other detritus and leaving them utterly disconnected. It’s why that style is so frustrating to read.)

    Anyway. If something is constructed, we should be able to reverse engineer it, or at least study its components and their relationships, and that’s how I tend to think about lit crit. Linguistics drove the whole structuralist movement in literary theory and continue to inform the ways we study prosody. Understanding phonetics may not help you love a particular poem, but it certainly allows you to identify and investigate how that poem does what it does, which is also awesome. It really is only since the Romantics in the 19th century that we’ve had this pervasive belief that the wind blows through the poet and verse comes out the other side. I love the choices they made to make their poems feel less artificial, but they were still choices, and those choices can be extrapolated and studied. And it’s super fun. :)

  80. 80
    Rutee Katreya

    I didn’t say that

    Yes. You did.

    Sounds like somebody needs to be put in an fMRI and asked to think something in a mode that cannot be understood by science.

    In fact, you said it JUST NOW.

    The ability to think can be explained by science–not by gods. Why you feel like having a pizza, why you didn’t like the movie, why you think Jesus saved you can be explained by science.

    This is only relevant to the idea that ‘people think scientifically’ if you accept all thoughts are scientific – which makes the term meaningless. What’ll we call those people who test thoughts empirically, now that all thoughts are scientific?

    I do not hate religious people. Religion just doesn’t help us understand how the world works.

    But you know what *does* help us understand how the world works? History. Anthropology. Fucking Literature analysis will help us understand how a part of the world works, albeit a somewhat narrow part that. And you’re so intent on keeping the religious from misinterpreting shit to support their claims (claims they’re gonna make regardless of whether or not they misinterpret PZ’s words) that you won’t even give other fields their god damn dues. You won’t pay your respects to fucking Philosophy, which birthed Science, all so religious people can… still make their ignorant claims? A joy to be around, yes.

    Rutee Katreya, you swear instead of argue. Use your words, girl.

    I am using my words. My command of the english language is almost certainly more advanced than your own – I just don’t cut off like 20 words from my vocabulary list because religious traditions dictate they’re bad.

  81. 81
    Enkidum

    “when PZ says something dumb like there are other ways of progressing”

    So there is no progress in the humanities?

    We’re just saying the same things over and over again, but philosophy or literary criticism or whatever are not science. They can be the subject matter of science (and science can be the subject matter of philosophy or art or what have you), but they ain’t science.

    Science != the stuff science studies
    Biology != animals and plants and other life forms
    Physics != fundamental particles or galaxies

    You’re the one who brought up this equivocation in the first place, yet you seem to be constantly sliding back and forth.

    And just to add another tangent… “Why you feel like having a pizza, why you didn’t like the movie, why you think Jesus saved you can be explained by science.”

    Well, maybe in principle they can be. At present, our scientific understanding of any of these issues is rudimentary at best, and it’s going to be very difficult to advance to the point where we can say much with confidence.

  82. 82
    susanvan

    Q: What’s the opposite of science?

    A: Nothing. Everything is science.

  83. 83
    Rutee Katreya

    If that were true, science would be a concept devoid of meaning. It would just be a word for everything, which signifies nothing. Mercifully, it is not.

  84. 84
    susanvan

    So what’s the opposite?

  85. 85
    Rutee Katreya

    Unrigorous acceptance of claims. Where in the blazing, freezing, dark, and metallic hells did you learn otherwise?

  86. 86
    Enkidum

    Do you really mean that “science” and “the universe” are synonyms? Because that’s what you just said.

  87. 87
    Enkidum

    I don’t think science has an opposite. Science is a group of interrelated processes and activities in the world. It’s like asking “what is the opposite of sports?” – it’s a totally meaningless question.

  88. 88
    susanvan

    “I don’t think science has an opposite.”

    Right, I agree science doesn’t have an opposite. It is the universe. (Is the word “universe” devoid of meaning, Rutee Katreya?)

    But if you are “doing” science, it does have an opposite. It’s called all sorts of things, including scientism.

    Just as there are several definitions of science, there are several definitions of scientism, one is nice (the practice of scientists”) and the other an insult (“the uncritical application of scientific or quasi-scientific methods”).

    I have not been equivocating between my definition of science, but I realize those who have been arguing against me have been using the definition that means preforming the scientific process.

  89. 89
    Enkidum

    You really do think that “science” means “the universe”? I mean, I know you’ve now explicitly said this several times, but I just want to make triple-sure that’s what you’re saying.

    Because I promise you, no one else who speaks the English language uses the word that way. It’s just not what the word means.

    I can say that “penguin” means “the history of the East India Tea Company”, and provided you’re willing to go along with that definition we could actually have a sensible discussion of sorts. But it’s not a discussion about penguins, at least not as the vast majority of English speakers understand the word. And when you’re saying “everything is science because science is the universe”, that makes sense provided we’ve agreed to suspend the normal meaning of English words. But it’s not what the word science means, most of the time, to most people. (In fact, I would go so far as to say that it’s close to never having been what the word science means to anyone in history other than yourself in this comment thread – I don’t even believe it’s how you personally use the word “science” in daily discourse.)

    And again, I use science in (I think) the sense you mean by “doing science”. And I don’t see that that has an opposite. To repeat myself, what’s the opposite of “sports”? It’s a meaningless question. “Sports” and “science” are both sets of interelated activities and processes done by human agents, with very very fuzzy boundaries. They don’t have opposites because they are not logical terms.

  90. 90
    Rutee Katreya

    Right, I agree science doesn’t have an opposite. It is the universe. (Is the word “universe” devoid of meaning, Rutee Katreya?)

    This is how I know my command of english is better than yours. The word ‘Universe’ has a meaning. If ‘science’ is meant to mean nothing more or less than ‘the universe’, it does not really have a meaning. Synonyms don’t actually mean the exact same thing – they have different connotations. They mean very similar things. ‘Trashed’ implies a lack of caring, ‘discarded’ is clinical and dispassionate, and ‘junked’ implies the destruction of a particularly large object such as a vehicle or oven.

  91. 91
    Enkidum

    Rutee – well, we could, for the sake of a (very strange) discussion, accept that “science” DOES have a meaning, and that meaning is identical to the meaning of “universe”. But it would be a weird fucking discussion that would have nothing to do with what anyone actually means by “science” outside of our play discussion, and certainly would have nothing interesting to say about PZ or Pinker’s points.

    Actually, forget about “would be” – this IS a very strange discussion that has nothing to do with Pinker or PZ’s points. Susanvan, I can promise you that what you’re saying is totally irrelevant, since neither Pinker nor PZ, nor any of their readers (including you) actually mean “the universe” when they say “science”. I promise.

  92. 92
    Rutee Katreya

    Rutee – well, we could, for the sake of a (very strange) discussion, accept that “science” DOES have a meaning, and that meaning is identical to the meaning of “universe”. But it would be a weird fucking discussion that would have nothing to do with what anyone actually means by “science” outside of our play discussion, and certainly would have nothing interesting to say about PZ or Pinker’s points.

    We can play with substitution ciphers, yes, but that’s not what’s under discussion here.

  93. 93
    susanvan

    Using your definition of science, do you agree with the following statements?

    1. “Science can be subjective.”
    2. “We need science to help us sift reality from illusion and genuine predictions from easy hindsight.”

    These two statements were made by the same person. Do you think he equivocates on the meaning of science? If it’s subjective, how can it possible help us sift reality from illusion?

  94. 94
    Enkidum

    Well I’m honestly not sure what is under discussion at this point. I’m totally unable to get a coherent position out of Susanvan’s posts – there’s just too much bizarre mangling of word meanings for me to know what she (I assume) is trying to argue. I’m guessing, as you say, it’s at least partially a linguistic issue, but I think it’s more than that.

    I do think that other than some minor quibbles I’m in agreement with more or less everything you (Rutee) have said, FWIW.

  95. 95
    Robby Bensinger

    Elizabeth Hamilton: “Cite some recent and interesting stuff in corpus linguistics and text analysis. Also, names of journals that carry it.”

    Sure! Here’s a good intro to a lot of the tools I had in mind: Tools for Exploring Text: Natural Language Processing.

    For journal titles, my friend ScottBot (whose amazing blog is chock full of this stuff) recommends Literary and Linguistic Computing and Journal of Machine Learning Research.

    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls: “Citation absolutely fucking needed.”

    Sure! Let’s start with science. Most predical product research may be wrong. See here for lots of other scary citations.

    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls: “Why should we take your unsupported (evidenced) word as anything other than bullshit to be dismissed without evidence be Christopher Hitchens (#1)?”

    Huh? I’m not sure I’m grokking where this level of hostility is coming from. If I’ve done something wrong, could you explain it to me? I’m used to having my assertions questioned, and happy to defend them. I’m less used to being personally attacked in such contexts.

    Rutee Katreya: “who doesn’t make claims about reality? Fucking religions do, but it doesn’t make them science! ”

    That’s a good point, but another way of putting it is to say that they’re failed science. Most religious claims are refuted empirical hypotheses. In saying that Hobbes constructed scientific hypotheses, we’re not saying that his claims were true. (Nor, when people debate whether string theory is ‘really science’, are they primarily debating its truth.) Though perhaps in this case there is an implication that his claims are important and relevant to modern investigation. They don’t exist in a separate magisterium, for example.

    jadehawk: “yes, that’s an accurate description of ppls arguments”

    Not most people’s, no. But it seems an accurate summary of the tumblr critic you cited, who seems more offended by the fact that Pinker is giving advice to humanities scholars while not being a humanities scholar, than by the actual content of that advice.

    susanvan: “Q: What’s the opposite of science?”

    Nescience!

  96. 96
    Enkidum

    Susanvan – yes, I agree with both those statements. And no, I don’t think there’s an equivocation about the meaning of science.

    Science is subjective in that… well… it’s done by subjects. By people. Scientists. And scientists have their own prejudices and foibles and viewpoints. Which affect the science. This is just to say that science isn’t magic – it’s a human activity (set of activities), and so shaped by the personalities and interests of the humans who do it. I’m hoping none of this is controversial?

    (I know this because I’m a scientist. It’s my job. In fact I’m avoiding doing some science right now by arguing with you on this webpage.)

    Science is incredibly imperfect, but it’s the best thing we’ve got for understanding how the world works, for “sifting reality from illusion and genuine predictions from easy hindsight”. Not sure why you think there’s a contradiction there.

  97. 97
    Rutee Katreya

    That’s a good point, but another way of putting it is to say that they’re failed science. Most religious claims are refuted empirical hypotheses.

    This is getting to be amateur hour from you. Science isn’t ‘failed’ because it’s wrong; even though it wasn’t 100% accurate, Newtonian physics was still close enough for many of our purposes. Einstein was just more correct, and indeed, science succeeds most gloriously when it proves things wrong. And again, I made dozens of claims about a roguelike and a diablolike yesterday afternoon while chatting with my waifu. There was no empirical testing, but they were empirical claims. According to the standard you’ve applied to Hume, et al, I engaged in science by offering tepid guesses or (in all probability) wrong opinions. Them being empirically testable was the sole qualification of whether they were science. You can’t even say they were failed science, because afaik, most of them haven’t been empirically tested.

  98. 98
    susanvan

    “Science is done by…”

    is what you said. But if science “is done by,” then what is science?

    It’s funny. You’re a scientist. I’m a high school English teacher.

    If science is imperfect (when it “is done by” people), how is it we can use it to sift reality from illusion? How do we get airplanes to fly?

    Science, in the definition I have been using, is objective and often understandable by imperfect people.
    To quote They Might Be Giants, “Science is real.”

  99. 99
    susanvan

    This is what I mean by equivocation on the definition of “science.” Here demonstrated by Rutee Katreya:

    Definition 1: attempted use of the scientific method, but wrong use
    Definition 2: good use of the scientific method

    “Science [defintion #1] isn’t ‘failed’ because it’s wrong; even though it wasn’t 100% accurate, Newtonian physics was still close enough for many of our purposes. Einstein was just more correct, and indeed, science [definition #2] succeeds most gloriously when it proves things wrong.

    Enkidum, I should let you get back to work. You have been a delight to talk to.

  100. 100
    Enkidum

    “if science “is done by,” then what is science?”

    In a very loose sense, science is the stuff that scientists do that is special about them – so not breathing and digesting and reasoning and perceiving and buying groceries. But a collection of interrelated activities and processes including… uh… rigorous observation, clear communication of methodology, statistics of some kind, peer review and publication (in some sense) of results, and a bunch of other stuff.

    “If science is imperfect… how do we get airplanes to fly?”

    Our digestive systems are imperfect, but we still manage to extract nutrients from food. Perfection is not a quality of anything in the real world.

  101. 101
    susanvan

    Let’s talk about grocery-buying. Do you select the name brand or the off-brand? Your decision was predetermined. Science predicted it. And humans are getting closer and closer by using science to predict how your brain will respond. We tap into science to uncover the truth. Science is always there to be understood.

    That’s why I say science is the universe.

    Our digestive systems are perfect for our species–unless we have cancer.

  102. 102
    mikeyb

    A great book defending a nuanced form of “scientism” tongue and cheek is Alex Rosenberg’s The Atheist Guide to Reality. Agree or disagree with it, the arguments are very well thought out and give alot to chew on.

  103. 103
    Robby Bensinger

    “Let’s start with science.”

    *medical science

    “This is getting to be amateur hour from you. Science isn’t ‘failed’ because it’s wrong; even though it wasn’t 100% accurate, Newtonian physics was still close enough for many of our purposes. ”

    It was failed because of its *degree* of wrongness. Wrongness isn’t a binary. For the philosophical debate about this, see Truthlikeness.

    “And again, I made dozens of claims about a roguelike and a diablolike yesterday afternoon while chatting with my waifu. There was no empirical testing, but they were empirical claims. According to the standard you’ve applied to Hume, et al, I engaged in science by offering tepid guesses or (in all probability) wrong opinions.”

    If you’re suggesting that Hume and co. aren’t scientists because they were engaged in “tepid guesses” and “wrong opinions”, then it seems you’ve parted ways quite a bit with P.Z.’s argument, which was that their deviation from scienceyness was nothing to be ashamed of. But perhaps you didn’t intend the analogy to go that far.

    I’d say that the notion that science, as a practice (as opposed to an institution), can only be done by professionals is both wrong and damaging. It’s certainly possible to approach personal issues, from your diet to your gaming successes to your love life, with plenty of scientific rigor. Most people don’t do that, but the problem is with their rigor and set of priorities, not with the subject matter. So perhaps we just disagree about whether history’s greatest philosophers were rigorous enough to qualify as investigating any claims scientifically, since we agree that the questions they asked were by and large open to empirical progress. In that case, I side with P.Z. in having a relatively high estimate of philosophers, though I side with Pinker in qualifying this by allowing that major relevant progress has been made in their areas of interest. Certainly there are plenty of professional scientists who are worse at the practice of science than some laypeople and philosophers are.

  104. 104
    Rutee Katreya

    If science is imperfect (when it “is done by” people), how is it we can use it to sift reality from illusion?

    Why do you communicate through language, when it’s subjective and imperfect?

    I’m a high school English teacher.

    I despair for the youth’s ability to learn and enjoy language. Then again, I do that anyway.

    It was failed because of its *degree* of wrongness. Wrongness isn’t a binary. For the philosophical debate about this, see Truthlikeness.

    The fuck are you trying to pretend that, to continue the example, Hobbes isn’t ‘failed science’ by your standards for then?

    If you’re suggesting that Hume and co. aren’t scientists because they were engaged in “tepid guesses” and “wrong opinions”, then it seems you’ve parted ways quite a bit with P.Z.’s argument, which was that their deviation from scienceyness was nothing to be ashamed of. But perhaps you didn’t intend the analogy to go that far.

    It’s not an analogy. I met the minimum standard you set forth. Your standards for ‘failed’ science are inapplicable due to a lack of evidence. I’m saying it’s a distinction that loses most meaning, positive or negative, to claim that the mere making of empirical claims is Science. And the real kicker is that if Pinker is doing it, his distinction between science and the humanities is beyond irrelevant. Now, I’ve been pretty clear on my stance here – it’s not difficult to consider both physics and philosophy science. This is a thing many non-english speakers already do. It doesn’t require some far out definition like ‘made empirical claims’. But you can’t include the philosophers that Pinker claimed were doing science while maintaining that same distinction between the sciences and the humanities.

    It’s certainly possible to approach personal issues, from your diet to your gaming successes to your love life, with plenty of scientific rigor.

    I do science to video games in my spare time. I know exactly how to go about collecting this kind of data. The point wasn’t that it’s impossible – if I’m sufficiently involved in a game’s community, I will, and to the extent it’s possible, I’ll even publish some results. The point was, I wasn’t yesterday. There was no empirical testing beyond general observation – and even putting aside that I understand some of the ways that can be fooled, I’ve seen general observation fall apart under discrete testing.

    So perhaps we just disagree about whether history’s greatest philosophers were rigorous enough to qualify as investigating any claims scientifically, since we agree that the questions they asked were by and large open to empirical progress.

    Where we disagree is letting Pinker get to have his cake and eat it too, to the benefit of ‘The sciences’ at the expense of ‘the humanities’. Again: You can make a definition of the sciences that includes philosophy, and that definition can be useful and meaningful – but it was not the definition Pinker was operating under for that article.

  105. 105
    susanvan

    Rutee Katreya, why are you angry?

    Think back. Have you had an internet debate in which you have not sworn? Have you ever enjoyed tossing around ideas without thinking your opponent was an idiot? (I don’t have a problem with swearing, but swearing at the person you are talking to is just ugly. Do you swear at your bank teller? Do you swear at your loved ones when you want them to understand you?)

    I think you may be an interesting person with interesting ideas worth considering, but your anger and bitterness makes it difficult to read what you write. I keep thinking, “She doesn’t really mean it, she’s had a bad day or else she would be so emotional dismissive.” There’s a time to swear. There’s a time not to swear.

  106. 106
    coelsblog

    104 Rutee Katreya

    But you can’t include the philosophers that Pinker claimed were doing science while maintaining that same distinction between the sciences and the humanities.

    You are misreading Pinker, he is arguing for a “consilience” between science and the humanities, that is essentially a merger, not for an ongoing division between them.

  107. 107
    Enkidum

    “Our digestive systems are perfect for our species–unless we have cancer.”

    Or we eat too much sugar and fat, or we have the flu, or someone sticks a sword through our intestines, or a million other possible cases. There’s an old saying that evolution isn’t the survival of the fittest, it’s the survival of the least inadequate.

    “Science predicted it. And humans are getting closer and closer by using science”

    I’m gonna go do other things with my life, but substitute “the universe” for science in those two sentences. Don’t they become completely ridiculous? The universe doesn’t predict anything – it’s not a mind. And to say “we used the universe to understand something” is simply to say that “we did something in the real world”. As Rutee says, your definition of science is so broad that it’s vacuous – by definition, anything we do is science (and any events that happen anywhere at any time are science). Then what’s the point of using the term? Isn’t “a scientist” just “any entity that exists in the universe”?

  108. 108
    susanvan

    Yikes, that last line should have read “or else she wouldn’t be so emotionally dismissive.”

  109. 109
    coelsblog

    105 susanvan

    Rutee Katreya, why are you angry?

    It’s the default setting of posters such as Rutee and Nerd and many others here. Accompanying every discussion with derision and rudeness is just characteristic of this blog (and deliberately cultivated by the blog owner).

  110. 110
    susanvan

    “Then what’s the point of using the term?

    As far as I can tell, the only point in using the term “science” is that some people use the term religion.

  111. 111
    mikeyb

    If you bother to read any of Pinker’s books and don’t come away with the impression that he is a great fan of the humanities, I think there is something seriously wrong with you. Another thing – he is married to Rebecca Goldstein – a great literary philosopher who’s writing I’ve also enjoyed tremendously. If that doesn’t say all, I don’t know what does.

  112. 112
    coelsblog

    Dear susanvan,

    How about we don’t define “science” as “universe” but rather as “our best attempts to understand the universe and everything in it using evidence and reason”?

  113. 113
    Rutee Katreya

    You are misreading Pinker, he is arguing for a “consilience” between science and the humanities, that is essentially a merger, not for an ongoing division between them.

    Pinker is misrepresenting the humanities themselves in calling for a ‘consilience’. We already use empiricism as it’s appropriate. Not in every way it’s appropriate, because that would imply perfect implementation, but he seems to dream we haven’t even considered science as a useful tool. Many, if not most of us, have, are, and will continue to do so. What he claims to want is actually the status quo; he’s claiming the status quo isn’t, and we all just need to listen to that great man to reach this honored state wherein we’re suddenly respected within universities again (HAHAHAHAHAHAHA)

    Oh, and spoiler alert for the reading-impaired: We can’t reconcile if we aren’t seperated somehow. He is maintaining a division. The division is necessary to his ever so gracious requests. I don’t see why you’re having trouble with this.

    Rutee Katreya, why are you angry?

    With you? I’m not, although if you think you can play armchair psychologist with me I will probably become irate. I’m derisive, certainly, but not angry.

    Have you ever enjoyed tossing around ideas without thinking your opponent was an idiot?

    Sure. I’ve had plenty of occasions to think I’m the one with something to learn. You are most certainly not one of them right now.

    Do you swear at your bank teller?

    I treat the service industry like saints, as long as they’re honest with me. Good job in your assumptions though!

    Do you swear at your loved ones when you want them to understand you?

    Sure. Heck, just mentioned to the waifu “I think someone’s playing fucking armchair psychologist with me”. But that’s cheating your intentions, so let me be more clear. In a discussion with her, I damn well will – it’s quite useful for emphasis.

    It’s the default setting of posters such as Rutee and Nerd and many others here. Accompanying every discussion with derision and rudeness is just characteristic of this blog (and deliberately cultivated by the blog owner).

    Give me something to respect if you actually want respect. Give opinions I won’t mock if you don’t want to be mocked.

  114. 114
    susanvan

    Yes, science can be defined as “our best attempts to understand the universe and everything in it using evidence and reason.” But people use it in other ways. I can’t control their use of the word. But I can point our when the equivocate within their own argument.

    Is science the truth or just our best guess to date?

    If it’s just our best guess to date, then science is subjective and often wrong. It’s a problem.

    I’d rather use the word science to mean “the objective truth.” And if we later find out our “science” was wrong, we admit out failing and explain why it wasn’t science.

  115. 115
    Rutee Katreya

    If you bother to read any of Pinker’s books and don’t come away with the impression that he is a great fan of the humanities, I think there is something seriously wrong with you.

    Believe it or not, I don’t have the literary canon of the human race downloaded onto my computer, so I have to judge people’s writings based on the words they’ve actually written down in the piece(s) I’m reading now. What he’s written down now, regardless of who he’s married to, does not indicate any particular respect for the humanities. It’s condescension, with a few token offerings otherwise.

    If that doesn’t say all, I don’t know what does.

    He could try demonstrating that basic aphorism of writing – show, don’t tell. He shouldn’t need you to tell me he loves the humanities.

  116. 116
    susanvan

    “Rutee Katreya, why are you angry?” was rhetorical.

    I didn’t really want you to try to explain yourself. I get it. No degree necessary.

  117. 117
    Rutee Katreya

    It’s a rhetorical question with a clear underpinning: You obviously think I’m super fuckin’ angry at you, rawr. I’m not. I’m not particularly annoyed at the misreading, but you’re not going to get anywhere trying to soothe my anger. It certainly can and does rage, but not really on this thread. The most any of you has managed is irritation here. Shit’s probably not important enough for any of you to manage more without somehow making it personal.

  118. 118
    coelsblog

    113 Rutee Katreya:

    We already use empiricism as it’s appropriate. What he claims to want is actually the status quo …

    Excellent, so we’re not far apart, there is indeed no big divide between the “sciences” and the “humanities”. That is indeed what those of us who espouse “scientism” maintain, that both — when done well — are best attempts to understand ourselves and the world around us using reason and evidence.

    he’s claiming the status quo isn’t, and we all just need to listen to that great man …

    No he isn’t. He’s well aware of the consilience between much of science and the humanities — that is exactly what he is arguing! And he would readily agree that many in the humanities already accept this sort of position. He is arguing is not against *all* in the humanities, but against those, possibly those few, who disparage science and try to create and maintain demarkations.

    And your dismissal that he’s saying “we all just need to listen to [Pinker]” is unfair, what he’s saying has been said by many others, and he’s pointing not to himself but to the successes of science.

    Oh, and spoiler alert for the reading-impaired: We can’t reconcile if we aren’t seperated somehow.

    Well, if you aren’t separated then that is **scientism** tra-la-la! I’m glad it was so easy to reach agreement. That’s how Pinker and such define “scientism”. (Ignore PZ’s strawman definition.) And if you (and many in the humanities) accept that then fine, his article was addressed at the few who want the big demarkation.

    He is maintaining a division. The division is necessary to his ever so gracious requests. I don’t see why you’re having trouble with this.

    I am “having trouble” seeing it because it isn’t there, you are reading it into Pinker owing to your ideological biases and need to denigrate Pinker.

  119. 119
    Enkidum

    Susanvan:

    You have so far used the word “science” to mean (and I’m quoting directly) “the truth”, “the universe”, and “the only mode of human thought”. And probably a few other meanings as well.

    Your meanings are jumping all over the place and it prevents you from being able to communicate your thoughts clearly (including to yourself). It’s ridiculous to claim that one word means those three different things, especially when any one of them has little or nothing to do with the everyday use of the word. If you don’t see that as a problem then you’re never going to straighten out your thinking on these matters.

  120. 120
    mikeyb

    Rutee,

    I understand how reading this piece might give a certain impression if read from a certain perspective. I just challenge, read a book or two of his, e.g. Better Angels of Our Nature, The Blank Slate, The Stuff of Thought, etc. and tell me if you honestly can still say that he expresses hostility/condescension towards the humanities. If you read them and still think so, fine, at least it will be based on more than one essay.

  121. 121
    coelsblog

    I understand how reading this piece might give a certain impression if read from a certain perspective.

    That’s the problem with PZ’s and Rutee’s readings of it, they’re reading it based on *their* conception of scientism and thus of what Pinker is saying, when to understand it it should be read from *Pinker’s* conception of scientism.

  122. 122
    mikeyb

    Remember also, Pinker’s speciality is linguistics and the study of the evolution of language. Wouldn’t it be pretty odd for a person who specializes in language, the formation of grammar, syntax, etc, to despise the humanities?

  123. 123
    Rutee Katreya

    Excellent, so we’re not far apart, there is indeed no big divide between the “sciences” and the “humanities”. That is indeed what those of us who espouse “scientism” maintain, that both — when done well — are best attempts to understand ourselves and the world around us using reason and evidence.

    You have no idea how many arrogant-as-shit natural sciences folks you have to poke with sticks, do you? Including Pinker. Fuck, for a guy who claims to just want us to work together, he’s awfully quick to claim the problem lies entirely with the humanities – which is fuckin’ laughable.

    No he isn’t. He’s well aware of the consilience between much of science and the humanities — that is exactly what he is arguing! And he would readily agree that many in the humanities already accept this sort of position. He is arguing is not against *all* in the humanities, but against those, possibly those few, who disparage science and try to create and maintain demarkations.

    Wow, you are really bad at reading comprehension. This state of ‘consilience’ is posited as, primarily, a glorious future. It’s kind of right there, where he uses that exact word, actually.

    But must these be the only paths to understanding? A consilience with science offers the humanities countless possibilities for innovation in understanding. Art, culture, and society are products of human brains. They originate in our faculties of perception, thought, and emotion, and they cumulate and spread through the epidemiological dynamics by which one person affects others. Shouldn’t we be curious to understand these connections? Both sides would win. The humanities would enjoy more of the explanatory depth of the sciences, to say nothing of the kind of a progressive agenda that appeals to deans and donors. The sciences could challenge their theories with the natural experiments and ecologically valid phenomena that have been so richly characterized by humanists.

    This is a plea to join with him. You can’t interpret that as a recognition that it’s the status quo. Well, okay, you can, and again, you can also say it’s a request for free ice cream to all and sundry. It’s just not true. He seems to offer a token recognition that it exists in a couple of fields, but some of the ones he names as incipient beneficiaries if we would just listen… are already using those tools (Which he claims were not in use because of his favorite boogeymen, it seems). And really, considering he is presenting it as a two-sided gain… you know this is entirely addressed to the humanities, right? Again, there’s a lot of folks in the natural sciences who need to be jabbed with sporks because they are arrogant douchebags who are sure we do nothing but retread Moby Dick.

    And your dismissal that he’s saying “we all just need to listen to [Pinker]” is unfair, what he’s saying has been said by many others, and he’s pointing not to himself but to the successes of science.

    Haha, no he’s not. If he actually wanted to try this, and support it, he’d probably be pointing at specific changes in how archeology, history, anthropology, sociology, Geography, or psychology are studied because of learning from the sciences and humanities; after all, people well-versed in the humanities are no more magically informed of other disciplines than scientists are, so that’d be pretty useful evidence.

    Well, if you aren’t separated then that is **scientism** tra-la-la! I’m glad it was so easy to reach agreement. That’s how Pinker and such define “scientism”. (Ignore PZ’s strawman definition.) And if you (and many in the humanities) accept that then fine, his article was addressed at the few who want the big demarkation.

    Okay, let me start me start with the obvious: I don’t give two shits about scientism. If he wants to pretend that it was easy for queer people to reclaim the word, he’s free to exist in his own little world, I don’t care.

    Moving on, I don’t posit a grand, huge divide. Pinker does, as the current status quo. His words mean we have that divide. His requests only make sense in light of some extant enormous divide. I am not ascribing anything to the man here.

    I am “having trouble” seeing it because it isn’t there, you are reading it into Pinker owing to your ideological biases and need to denigrate Pinker.

    You’re so cute – do you think this is being circumspect? XD

  124. 124
    susanvan

    I agree with all of your definitions attributed to me. I attribute it to this word because of how people use the it.

    The truth: Facilitated communication is not science.
    The universe: The heliocentric view is science.
    fMRI: Our thoughts can be traced to different areas in our brain by using science.

  125. 125
    Rutee Katreya

    I understand how reading this piece might give a certain impression if read from a certain perspective. I just challenge, read a book or two of his, e.g. Better Angels of Our Nature, The Blank Slate, The Stuff of Thought, etc. and tell me if you honestly can still say that he expresses hostility/condescension towards the humanities. If you read them and still think so, fine, at least it will be based on more than one essay.

    I’m sorry, but if he can’t be arsed to express some level of caring, some true understanding of the value of the humanities as they are, in an open letters to humanities professors everywhere, I can’t be arsed to read one of his books for the purpose of maybe finding out that this disrespect only exists in the essay where he’s talking directly to us.

    That’s the problem with PZ’s and Rutee’s readings of it, they’re reading it based on *their* conception of scientism and thus of what Pinker is saying, when to understand it it should be read from *Pinker’s* conception of scientism.

    Ah, you are a good one at reading intent, aren’t you? Yes, I can tell you’re a master of that craft.

    Remember also, Pinker’s speciality is linguistics and the study of the evolution of language. Wouldn’t it be pretty odd for a person who specializes in language, the formation of grammar, syntax, etc, to despise the humanities?

    You know how in the sciences, y’all have the physicists and biologists being massive assholes to the social scientists…

  126. 126
    Rutee Katreya

    Remember also, Pinker’s speciality is linguistics and the study of the evolution of language. Wouldn’t it be pretty odd for a person who specializes in language, the formation of grammar, syntax, etc, to despise the humanities?

    Minor points of clarity, also: Pinker styles himself an evolutionary psychologist (Which is just srs bsns science) as much as anything else, and he specifies linguistics as one of the rare exceptions that’s reached an accord with science.

  127. 127
    coelsblog

    123 Rutee Katreya

    Fuck, for a guy who claims to just want us to work together, he’s awfully quick to claim the problem lies entirely with the humanities – which is fuckin’ laughable.

    Again, you read into him things he hasn’t actually said.

    Wow, you are really bad at reading comprehension. This state of ‘consilience’ is posited as, primarily, a glorious future.

    Err, except that he says: “In some disciplines, this consilience is a fait accompli.” Further, even if much of the fruits of consilience were in the “glorious future”, that is still arguing for an underlying consilience *now*, since for the consilience to be fruitful there has to be an underlying unity in aims, subject matter and methods. For example, Pinker etal would never argue for a consilience between science and theology.

  128. 128
    mikeyb

    Rutee, OK fine. Not reading Pinker – I think you’re missing out.

    BTW, despite the consensus of many in this blog, evolutionary psychology, like its twin sociobiology is a well developed established science accepted by probably >90% of the evolutionary biology community. Yes there is quibbling about bad science around the edges, but that is true of any field. That of course give anyone the right to be a contrarian, but doesn’t make the points legitimate in science. If you wish to be anti-EP, that’s fine there is also a minority of people called climate change deniers. If some one comes up with better ideas that EP, and a theoretical framework equivalent to EP, I’ll be open to new ideas.

  129. 129
    Kagehi

    (14) “What causes genocide is the ignorant belief in an absolute formal distinction between two things where in fact there is only a spectrum.” – This seems to be a topic change, unless you think Pinker has anywhere denied that this contributes to genocide.

    I don’t know.. Sometimes people can end up talking past each other, due to their own biases resulting in really poor word choices, on one side, and serious misinterpretation of them, on the other.

    A thread I was posting to some place else someone decided to assert that “affection” is some driving motivation in human behavior. No, actually, they asserted that it was the **major** one. I pointed out a number of examples where this just doesn’t work logically, and people hurt each other, and he simply asserted it again, and told me, “Go google it.” Well, I have read more than enough psych, and the like, to know that the phrase is rarely used, and if/when it is, its in a context of “one of many drives”, so…

    In any case, trying to make my point clearer, since he seemed to be claiming it was some sort of miracle emotion/drive, I quoted the section with Death and Susan in Hogsfather, making the point about belief and myths, and the strive for the need to make something true, because we want it, even if the universe itself doesn’t give a damn if we kill each other. Needless to say.. things went rapidly down hill after that.

    Point being – its more or less the argument in (14), but his version is stated really badly imo. A better way, if longer winded, to put it is that how we treat each other is, in a lot of ways, mythology (which was the argument I was making to the guy I argued with). When your mythology says, “Everyone else is different with me, and they all probably want to hurt me, other than the few I personally know.”, then inevitable consequence is, “I need to hurt them first, or, at the very least, be as uncooperative with them as possible, until I am sure I get from them everything I possibly can, and they haven’t cheated me somehow.” You see this insane BS in Putin, and a lot of right wingers in the US. Or, we can chop up all of other “outsiders” into a finite number of smaller groups, each with a mythology applied to them, which places them on a spectrum between enemy and friend. Or, we can do what some new age thinkings tend to, and lump everyone into the group, “They are just like me, just with different beliefs, and ideas, and somehow they should all be respected.”

    My argument would be that, in modern times, we have shifted more towards the latter myth, in part because psychology tells us that we do all think more alike than we don’t, but, at the same time, some of us can manage to separate out the “ideas” from the people (if not always very successfully), thus creating the category, “People that mostly think like us, but whose ideas have screwed up their thinking.” Ironically, on some level, we might even thank Christianity, and its stupid idea of “missionaries”, for that paradigm, since their “mythology” was, “You can force people to change, or show them the light, over night, by replacing their currently mythology with a new, shinier (but still wrong, even if they didn’t think so) one.” Ours is more like.. “Its not shinny, its not going to give you everything you want, etc., but, at least it is based on reality.”, only.. too many people still think they can actually “live” in Disneyland, not just visit it once in a while, for entertainment, so.. reject our mythology, for the pretty, shinier ones.

    Noting that, in this context, by mythology, I don’t mean, “Understanding science, reality, facts, etc.”, but rather all of the “ought to be” ideas, that reflect how we want the world to look, and the stories we tell ourselves about why they should be that way. The “ways of progressing” that are only related to how we reach them as conclusions somewhat less directly, and which, unlike the guy I was trying to argue with, **determine** whether or not the “core drive” in someone’s beliefs is going to be, “affection for ones fellow man”, or, for example, “Blind fear of the ‘enemy’.”, and every thing along the spectrum between the various drives and motivations that do lay at the core of what we are.

    So, yeah, badly worded, but I can’t object to what I think he “might” have meant by (14).

  130. 130
    Rutee Katreya

    Again, you read into him things he hasn’t actually said.

    It’s a letter addressed to the humanities, wherein he refuses to admit fault lies with scientists AT ALL. He’s either really, really, really stupid at convincing people to come to his positions, or he doesn’t actually think there is fault with scientists. This is a really easy bone to throw. It’s not like I’m asking him to recognize that the Tuskeegee syphillis studies were actually fucking awful or anything, after all; This is actually germane to his stated goals.

    Err, except that he says:

    \
    “…primarily posited…”
    “He seems to offer a token recognition that it exists in a couple of fields, but some of the ones he lists as incipient beneficiaries in the future…”

    Further, even if much of the fruits of consilience were in the “glorious future”, that is still arguing for an underlying consilience *now*

    Madogoddess above, you do not know how to stick to a position, do you? Let me go ahead and remind you: You claimed that Pinker does not feel there is a divide at all between the sciences and the humanities, because if that divide exists, it is thoroughly dishonest of Pinker to claim philosophers as scientists. It doesn’t matter if he wants us to join now – his claim is that we aren’t. You have, inadvertently, conceded his dishonesty.

  131. 131
    Rutee Katreya

    Rutee, OK fine. Not reading Pinker – I think you’re missing out.

    I’ll live.

    BTW, despite the consensus of many in this blog, evolutionary psychology, like its twin sociobiology is a well developed established science accepted by probably >90% of the evolutionary biology community.

    Nobody cares about the opinions of a community that doesn’t square with reality.

    If you wish to be anti-EP, that’s fine there is also a minority of people called climate change deniers

    If climate change didn’t dovetail with other sciences, there would actually be cause to doubt it. Funnily enough, EP does not dovetail with other sciences.

  132. 132
    mikeyb

    What constitutes a better fit for reality, the consensus of a blog community or the consensus of actual scientists who publish in peer-reviewed journals? I prefer the latter.

  133. 133
    Rutee Katreya

    What constitutes a better fit for reality, the consensus of a blog community or the consensus of actual scientists who publish in peer-reviewed journals? I prefer the latter.

    Option c: The consensus of scientists in related fields who find evopsych’s findings don’t square up with the facts, and who find their methods flawed. If you think it’s just ‘this blog’ that disagrees, you are woefully underinformed.

    And it’s not just scientists either. Archeologists and anthropologists laugh a long laugh whenever evopsych wants to talk about our distant past (which is pretty much all the time, given the nature of their claims).

  134. 134
    Rutee Katreya

    So hey, I guess that the humanities and sciences can reach an accord on some things even now, even when english speakers :D

  135. 135
    mikeyb

    Nope totally wrong. Some of the most prominent social anthropologists for example Pascal Boyer and Scott Atran, just to name two, totally buy into the framework of EP, and use it as integral part of their arguments, in this case, the evolutionary origins of religion.

    What I stated before, we need an alternative to EP, not just damning criticism of EP – that to me just looks like the technique used by ID against evolution. And no – to date evo-devo has not presented any framework equivalent to EP, or data which could enhance or replace EP. Like I said if someone would present a credible theoretical framework to replace EP and try to explain the same facts, I’m all ears.

  136. 136
    Rutee Katreya

    What I stated before, we need an alternative to EP, not just damning criticism of EP

    See, that’s a bad sign. You don’t really read critics, do you? There was another thread for it, I know for a fact you got to see, ad nauseum, “We don’t have a problem with the basic premise of the field, the problem is that EP is utter shit at actually applying any of it”. So yeah, good morning!

  137. 137
    mikeyb

    FYI, I did read at least one other post on the Jerry Coyne spat on EP. I didn’t find any of the critique qualitatively different that the same kind of damning criticisms launched by ID advocates against evolution.
    It was much more that questions of application (many I recall denied it was even a legitimate field of study) which BTW is not a particularly good criticism anyway since science doesn’t have to have direct applications to still be good science.

    Again, I’m all ears if there is a better theory which accounts for the same facts.

  138. 138
    Rutee Katreya

    I didn’t find any of the critique qualitatively different that the same kind of damning criticisms launched by ID advocates against evolution.

    Cool beans, you’re demonstrating that you’re like a reverse polymath for us in one fell swoop then.

    It was much more that questions of application (many I recall denied it was even a legitimate field of study)

    I can’t imagine how one could validly lead to the other at all, nopers. Spoiler alert for those who need it:
    Fix the glaring errors and you havea valid field of study. One would think this was rocket surgery.

    Again, I’m all ears if there is a better theory which accounts for the same facts.

    What, one synthesis? Afraid not. You’ll just have to deal with the relevant superior theories being the ones from the fields they ignore. Reality’s messy like that, and makes it hard to nail things down to one board. EP could maybe do it if it cleaned up its act.

    BTW is not a particularly good criticism anyway since science doesn’t have to have direct applications to still be good science.

    Not utility, you twit. Questions on how the science is actually fucking pursued.

  139. 139
    Rutee Katreya

    Oh right, I said “Good morning” because this had been derailed from Pinker’s jackassery to the humanities enough. Hopefully I’ll remember if I actually say that out loud in a post. Enjoy the last word.

  140. 140
    mikeyb

    Very funny. If science had to be applicable, meaning predictive, then much of evolutionary biology would not be a science. Evolutionary biology can explain adaptations, but given for example the fact that mutations are random, they cannot in principle be predictive. We cannot apply evolutionary theory to predict what future evolutionary adaptations if any humans or other species will obtain in the future. Read up, many of the claims and theoretical underpinning of EP, like evolution is explanatory not predictive in this same way. Anyway this is tiresome. If you want to remain blissfully ignorant of what EP is actually about, and just dismiss it without really knowing anything about it or what actual practitioners think or the logic or facts behind it – be my guest. Another name for that is anti-intellectualism.

  141. 141
    coelsblog

    130 Rutee Katreya:

    It’s a letter addressed to the humanities, wherein he refuses to admit fault lies with scientists AT ALL.

    Fault for what? You go wrong by adopting the usual Horde “division” rhetoric in which everything is about competing sides, fault and aggression.

    He’s either really, really, really stupid at convincing people to come to his positions, or he doesn’t actually think there is fault with scientists

    A vast amount of Pinker’s writings are about critiquing other scientists.

    Madogoddess above, you do not know how to stick to a position, do you?

    Yes I do, it’s just that you are very bad at understanding any position that isn’t your own.

    Let me go ahead and remind you: You claimed that Pinker does not feel there is a divide at all between the sciences and the humanities, …

    As I said, the idea is that there is an ****underlying**** unity, a consilience, between all these fields, because they are all aiming for the same thing, understanding ourselves and our place in the universe in terms of reason and evidence. There should be no big divides here because the sphere of knowledge is a unified whole.

    Where there are de facto divisions, these are unfortunate and artificial, and are hampering progress. We should try to remove them. There is nothing inconsistent about this stance.

    … it is thoroughly dishonest of Pinker … You have, inadvertently, conceded his dishonesty.

    Ah, the accusation of dishonesty so characteristic of the Horde. You read people whose opinions differ in a spirit of derision and aggression towards them, you often misunderstand or misrepresent them, and then you accuse them of dishonesty. Yet the fault is very often with you.

  142. 142
    Rutee Katreya

    Fault for what?

    Oh my jesus, it’s like I’m dealing with an extremely annoying ferret. Can you actually remember what the topic is about? He wants to make the humanities ‘accept’ science and use empiricism in their disciplines. He insists that the entire reason the humanities might spurn the sciences is because we’re irrational – at no point does he discuss how scientists, at least in english speaking countries, often treat people in the humanities like crap. How could he? He’s doing it now.

    You go wrong by adopting the usual Horde “division” rhetoric in which everything is about competing sides, fault and aggression.

    For a guy claiming other people distort reality to fit into their narratives… XD

    There should be no big divides here because the sphere of knowledge is a unified whole.

    There should be no divide inherently contradicts There is no divide. And it’s a divide he’s propping up while he insists that he doesn’t want a divide. All he’s doing is claiming the bits useful to him.

    You read people whose opinions differ in a spirit of derision and aggression towards them, you often misunderstand or misrepresent them, and then you accuse them of dishonesty.

    Yeah, if only you could actually rebut what the evidence indicates, rather than lament it. Fuck, you are terrible at this.

  143. 143
    Rutee Katreya

    Also, since you seem to think that ‘fault’ is a concept I’m inserting into this conversation, and that Pinker wouldn’t dream of saying such a thing (Which, by the way, thank you for announcing you haven’t read the subject of the OP in any depth whatsoever)

    Diagnoses of the malaise of the humanities rightly point to anti-intellectual trends in our culture and to the commercialization of our universities. But an honest appraisal would have to acknowledge that some of the damage is self-inflicted. The humanities have yet to recover from the disaster of postmodernism, with its defiant obscurantism, dogmatic relativism, and suffocating political correctness. And they have failed to define a progressive agenda. Several university presidents and provosts have lamented to me that when a scientist comes into their office, it’s to announce some exciting new research opportunity and demand the resources to pursue it. When a humanities scholar drops by, it’s to plead for respect for the way things have always been done.

    Because you still haven’t read this even after I quoted it last time (But he is neither insulting nor putting fault on scholars of the humanities, because… reasons, I guess). He’s pretty up front here, about how the loss of academic funding or academic prestige for the humanities is entirely on the humanities. It has nothing to do with scientists being assholes, and devaluing the humanities, nosir.

  144. 144
    Rutee Katreya

    (And no, I don’t think a single line about anti-intellectualism or commercialization makes up for the rest, so don’t try pointing to that about how I’m being ‘unfair’)

  145. 145
    coelsblog

    Rutee Katreya:

    He wants to make the humanities ‘accept’ science and use empiricism in their disciplines.

    It’s not quite that simple, he’s well aware (as is everyone) that humanities already use empiricism.

    He insists that the entire reason the humanities might spurn the sciences is because we’re irrational …

    That’s rather a strawman version of what he’s saying!

    He’s pretty up front here, about how the loss of academic funding or academic prestige for the humanities is entirely on the humanities.

    Well the biggest “disaster” he pointed to is postmodernism, and that really is the fault of the humanities (or, rather, that fraction of the humanities that embraced postmodernism). Postmodernism is in no way the fault of the sciences, which all along rejected it.

    It has nothing to do with scientists being assholes, and devaluing the humanities, nosir.

    You seem to have a chip on your shoulder about this. In what ways have scientists been “assholes” that has caused loss of funding/prestige to humanities?

  146. 146
    grouperfish

    My experience tells me otherwise:

    As someone in the anthropological sciences, I can tell you that I, nor my colleagues, enjoyed it a few years ago when the American Association of Anthropologists voted to remove the word science from the mission statement. And yeah, that was a move hostile to science. Currently, I am at a university where there is no science aspect (no biological anthropology or forensic anthropology) in the anthropology department because the chair is a cultural anthropologist and WILL NOT ALLOW it. Its also an anti-science stance (for the curious, I have survived through a position in biology). The consequences of this? There is no teaching of human evolution at my university (and its a top ranked private one). This makes sense to the chair because he believes that there is nothing to really gain in understanding the biology of humans for understanding humanity. It makes me really sad.

    There has definitely been a push back from the humanities against the sciences that is anti-science. How serious it is or not, I can’t really tell.

  147. 147
    grouperfish

    My experience tells me otherwise:

    As someone in the anthropological sciences, I can tell you that I, nor my colleagues, enjoyed it a few years ago when the American Association of Anthropologists voted to remove the word science from the mission statement. And yeah, that was a move hostile to science. Currently, I am at a university where there is no science aspect (no biological anthropology or forensic anthropology) in the anthropology department because the chair is a cultural anthropologist and WILL NOT ALLOW it. Its also an anti-science stance (for the curious, I have survived through a position in biology). The consequences of this? There is no teaching of human evolution at my university (and its a top ranked private one). This makes sense to the chair because he believes that there is nothing to really gain in understanding the biology of humans for understanding humanity. It makes me really sad.

    There has definitely been a push back from the humanities against the sciences that is anti-science. How serious it is or not, I can’t really tell. It’s possible PZ that you don’t feel the effects of this because you aren’t actually in a discipline that fights over this stuff, and you don’t study humans, really.

  148. 148
    Rutee Katreya

    It’s not quite that simple, he’s well aware (as is everyone) that humanities already use empiricism.

    You say that, but he’s clearly ignorant of the way multiple fields use empiricism.

    That’s rather a strawman version of what he’s saying!

    I’m to believe that he thinks we’re rational in the pile of insults against our rationality he throws at us? Pass.

    Well the biggest “disaster” he pointed to is postmodernism, and that really is the fault of the humanities (or, rather, that fraction of the humanities that embraced postmodernism). Postmodernism is in no way the fault of the sciences, which all along rejected it.

    So he considers the biggest disaster to be something that very few embraced, and thinks this meritted the majority of space on fault, but he totally understand the issues at hand. Do you even know what post-modernism means? Because neither of you seems to. It’s just a giant-ass boogeyman.

    You seem to have a chip on your shoulder about this. In what ways have scientists been “assholes” that has caused loss of funding/prestige to humanities?

    Let’s see, I could start with ignoring or belittling humanities and scholars of humanities, or perhaps ignoring our contributions to the sum of human knowledge.

  149. 149
    coelsblog

    148 Rutee Katreya:

    I’m to believe that he thinks we’re rational in the pile of insults against our rationality he throws at us?

    It seems to me that you have a chip on your shoulder if you’re interpreting that article as a “pile of insults”. As for “ignoring and belittling humanities”, I don’t see science as doing that.

  150. 150
    Rutee Katreya

    It seems to me that you have a chip on your shoulder if you’re interpreting that article as a “pile of insults”.

    It also seemed to you that I was angry, and that I was teh supar scared of Scientism. Third time’s the charm, maybe? Nope.

    I don’t see science as doing that.

    Science is a process. It can’t. Scientists can and do.

  151. 151
    coelsblog

    150 Rutee Katreya:

    It also seemed to you that I was angry, and that I was teh supar scared of Scientism.

    “Angry” was not really my word (though I did point to a “default setting” of accompanying discussion with derision and insults, which can come across as angry). And I don’t think I ever said you were “scared” of scientism.

    And no, I don’t see natural scientists in general as “ignoring and belittling humanities”.

  152. 152
    Rutee Katreya

    “Angry” was not really my word (though I did point to a “default setting” of accompanying discussion with derision and insults, which can come across as angry)

    It wasn’t your word, you just agreed with it when someone else articulated it. Can you handle being wrong ever?

    And I don’t think I ever said you were “scared” of scientism.

    Well, it’s either fear or detestment – you acted as though I were really concerned with avoiding the label you’ve both dreamed up for use that I don’t give a shit about.

    And no, I don’t see natural scientists in general as “ignoring and belittling humanities”.

    Then you’re not very observant. I could perhaps buy “Natural sciences are not too much so”. Perhaps they are not. But to say you don’t see them doing so in general… it’s likely apathy or myopia, I care little about the cause.

  153. 153
    coelsblog

    152 Rutee Katreya:

    you acted as though I were really concerned with avoiding the label …

    No, I don’t think you’re concerned about “avoiding” the label “scientism”, I think you’re misunderstanding what those who do adopt it mean by it.

    I could perhaps buy “Natural sciences are not too much so”.

    So is your complaint then about the social scientists more than the natural scientists?

  154. 154
    Rutee Katreya

    No, I don’t think you’re concerned about “avoiding” the label “scientism”, I think you’re misunderstanding what those who do adopt it mean by it.

    Uh huh. What would you even base this on? My only mention of scientism prior to you telling me I’m super cool with it was that the Tuskeegee Experiments weren’t just a problem to ‘scientism’ critics. Because they ain’t. Some of us are fucking decent people.

    So is your complaint then about the social scientists more than the natural scientists?

    Cute. I very rarely see social scientists engage in this jackassery towards the humanities. Not never, but very rarely. The point isn’t that ‘hard’ sciences don’t do it too much – they do, because any interdisciplinary sniping is too much (As too, do more mental sciences, don’t get me wrong; Interdisciplinary sniping is by no means limited to the prestigious.) The point was, had you said that, I could perhaps believe you were being both honest and observant. You did not. You instead claimed that it did not generally happen.

    “Natural Sciences” is an attempt to avoid the ‘humanity/science’ breach in english, not to both maintain it and strengthen it by seperating out sciences.

  155. 155
    coelsblog

    154 Rutee Katreya:

    My only mention of scientism prior to you telling me I’m super cool with it …

    Which I didn’t.

    the Tuskeegee Experiments weren’t just a problem to ‘scientism’ critics. Because they ain’t. Some of us are fucking decent people.

    Did anyone ever say that only scientism critics had a problem with them? Your replies seem mostly to be a whole bundle of strawmen.

    “Natural Sciences” is an attempt to avoid the ‘humanity/science’ breach in english, not to both maintain it and strengthen it by seperating out sciences.

    My use of it was aimed at elucidating your complaint, which, other than discerning a huge chip on your shoulder, I still don’t really get. Perhaps this is mostly an inferiority complex from the humanities, rather than anything scientists have actually done? I still don’t see why that article is a “pile of insults”, unless you’re trying hard to feel insulted.

  156. 156
    Rutee Katreya

    Which I didn’t.

    Well, if you aren’t separated then that is **scientism** tra-la-la! I’m glad it was so easy to reach agreement. That’s how Pinker and such define “scientism”. (Ignore PZ’s strawman definition.) And if you (and many in the humanities) accept that then fine, his article was addressed at the few who want the big demarkation.

    Do you own anything you say?

    Did anyone ever say that only scientism critics had a problem with them? Your replies seem mostly to be a whole bundle of strawmen.

    Yes,a ctually, Pinker did. Perhaps he did not intend to, but he did indeed minimize those horrible, racist experiments and treat them as primarily a thing ‘scientism critics’ get worked up about. This isn’t a strawman; he didn’t issue condemnation, he treated it more as a minor bug that doesn’t really matter now.

    My use of it was aimed at elucidating your complaint, which, other than discerning a huge chip on your shoulder, I still don’t really get. Perhaps this is mostly an inferiority complex from the humanities, rather than anything scientists have actually done? I still don’t see why that article is a “pile of insults”, unless you’re trying hard to feel insulted.

    Okay, so you didn’t see the parts where he ignored advances in empricism in the humanities, you didn’t see the part where he laid the primary onus of the ‘decline of humanities’ funding on the humanities, you didn’t see the part where he said that while science has new ideas and new things, humanities focuses on things it’s already done, and you didn’t see the part where the alleged ‘consilience’ was mostly about how science was going to give tools to the humanities, rather than the humanities and the sciences would impart knowledge of tools and important consideration to each other (Fuck, at its most basic level the humanities stands to increase the ability of scientists to work with other scientists across the globe)… all of that, invisible to you? And you want to tell me this is an ‘inferiority complex’ on my part, and not a lack of observation on yours.

  157. 157
    susanvan

    Pinker “did indeed minimize those horrible, racist experiments”

    No, Pinker was pointing out that his colleague was foolish to compare the gain from a smallpox vaccine to the horror of the Tuskegee study.

    If your colleague was stupid enough to asked you to decide between the pain and suffering of a few people to the pain and suffering of many people, what’s your answer?

    No doubt you would say that is a stupid, stupid, ugly question. I would answer that way too. That is what Pinker was pointing out. His response wasn’t politically correct, but it was true. I think that is what makes you angry. Deep down, in the part of you that is smart and not protected by political correctness, you know Pinker is right about everything.

  158. 158
    coelsblog

    156 Rutee Katreya

    [Pinker] did indeed minimize those horrible, racist experiments and treat them as primarily a thing ‘scientism critics’ get worked up about. … he didn’t issue condemnation, he treated it more as a minor bug that doesn’t really matter now.

    All of your statments there are untrue. He described Tuskegee as “universally deplored” (though admittedly he didn’t indulge in the highly vocal style of denunciation typical of the Horde). His main point was that it wasn’t an *”unavoidable”* consequence of scientific progress, not some inevitable downside, but rather an *”universally deplored”* breach of acceptable conduct. He was not treating it as a “minor bug”, quite the opposite.

    … all of that, invisible to you?

    It is understandable that he focussed more on the aspects of consilience that he would be more familiar with, and didn’t write about the aspects of which he knew less. For you to interpret such a thing as an “insult” suggests your inferiority complex and desire to take offense.

    he laid the primary onus of the ‘decline of humanities’ funding on the humanities …

    Out of interest, on what do *you* blame the “decline of humanities funding”? Is it all the fault of scientists, and if so in what way?

    Fuck, at its most basic level the humanities stands to increase the ability of scientists to work with other scientists across the globe

    Though natural scientists have a very good track record of working with other scientists across the globe, possibly better than in any other realm of human endeavour. It may be that those in the humanities could learn from the scientists on this one.

  159. 159
    Alastair B

    “Fuck, you are just a joy to be around.” says Rutee Katreya, apparently without a hint of irony!

  160. 160
    danielw

    @mickeyb: Actually reading Pinker – or at least [i]The Blank Slate[/i] – has convinced me of one thing. He hasn’t read much of or bothers to understand the things he argues against. For a start, he got the entire history of 20th century sociology and anthropology (my discipline) wrong. Actually not just wrong but not even wrong. He confuses, for example, behaviourism (with had next to no influence over the above) with Phenomenology and Symbolic interactionism (whose influence was enormous and still is). He constantly quoted social scientists and humanists out of context to proof his point. I remember in one article he quote Jose Ortega y Gasset’s “man has no nature, what he has is history” to demonstrate that 20th century humanists were socialist idealists blind to ‘human nature’… except of course that isn’t what Ortega y Gasset meant and that he was hardly a socialist idealist – a brief click on his wiki profile would debunk that. This is just one example which sticks out in my mine. He quote mines extensively. If you want my honest opinion, except perhaps relating to linguistics of which I can’t comment extensively, he is the Herbert Spencer of the age, a figure whose intellectual ideas have a type of sociological appeal in the time and place he is writing but will be mocked by the children of his students.

    While there are anthropologists who use EP, Atram and Boyer as you mentioned and also Dan Sperber (all French interestingly enough) they are still a minority. Figures equally dominant in the field such as Maurice Bloch, Tim Ingold, Marshall Sahlins and the late Clifford Geertz have/did not. Personally, I’m yet to be convinced. But then again, I am something of an old fashioned constructivist in my attitudes and am pretty sceptical about the notion of ‘human nature’ (especially as it is understood by EP – although I will admit that something *like* sociobiology must be true). So sue me.

  161. 161
    Rutee Katreya

    No, Pinker was pointing out that his colleague was foolish to compare the gain from a smallpox vaccine to the horror of the Tuskegee study.

    Easy to say when it ain’t your fuckin’ problem.

    If your colleague was stupid enough to asked you to decide between the pain and suffering of a few people to the pain and suffering of many people, what’s your answer?

    No part of that sounds like being made to ‘choose’, and every part of it sounds like being reminded that shit HAPPENED.. And you know, the Tuskegee Experiments aren’t exactly the end of racism in medicine or medicinal science. It’s not like the process is over. The suffering of many people, not a few, continues for this very reason.

    His response wasn’t politically correct
    Only a thing to overprivileged fucks – which I’m aware is a group Pinker is counted under.

    He described Tuskegee as “universally deplored”

    Untrue – The experiments were damn well appreciated by the researchers. They are not alone, and were even less so then, in not considering black people to merit personhood, or the ethics that were brought in later. He considers a decades-long experiment a ‘single breach’. Again, racism in medicine does not begin and end with Tuskegee.

    It is understandable that he focussed more on the aspects of consilience that he would be more familiar with, and didn’t write about the aspects of which he knew less. For you to interpret such a thing as an “insult” suggests your inferiority complex and desire to take offense.

    Again, shit he was talking about as though it was surely going to happen as soon as those humanities professors listened to him, is already happening. That level of ignorance while in the process of condescending to these same people on what their jobs should be done like, is insulting. Unless you’re you, I guess, in which case you just insist it’s an inferiority complex. Maybe you’re 1 for 4? Nope

    Out of interest, on what do *you* blame the “decline of humanities funding”? Is it all the fault of scientists, and if so in what way?

    The overall shift in culture that leads to a devaluation of the study of that culture. A big part of that is anti-intellectualism, but it’s by no means the only part of that.

    Though natural scientists have a very good track record of working with other scientists across the globe, possibly better than in any other realm of human endeavour. It may be that those in the humanities could learn from the scientists on this one.

    Uh, there are nations with governmental offices devoted to this very thing in the humanities. I mean, shit, do you think historical records magic themselves into our hands? That artifacts are free floating, and the search for them still done entirely by foreigners to the places they’re searching in? Not to mention that actually working with those outside your discipline seems less a thing in the sciences.

    Fuck, you are just a joy to be around.” says Rutee Katreya, apparently without a hint of irony!

    Nope – I’m a ray of sunshine professionally and with acquaintances and friends I like~

  162. 162
    coelsblog

    161 Rutee Katreya:

    He described Tuskegee as “universally deplored”

    Untrue – The experiments were damn well appreciated by the researchers.

    He was saying that it is now universally deplored (he wasn’t saying that it was then).

    Again, shit he was talking about as though it was surely going to happen as soon as those humanities professors listened to him, is already happening.

    Why sure, of course it is happening, he fully accepts that (“In some disciplines, this consilience is a fait accompli”). He knows that it is happening, but he also knows that it is meeting resistence from some quarters. He is arguing against that resistence.

    A big part of that is anti-intellectualism, …

    Well ok, maybe it is, but “anti-intellectualism” is the very opposite of science, so I don’t see why you’re railing at scientists.

    Uh, there are nations with governmental offices devoted to this very thing in the humanities.

    I’m not sure what you’re trying to argue here. I’m sticking to my suggestion that natural scientists have an excellent track record of world-wide collaboration, perhaps a better record than any other field of human endeavour has.

  163. 163
    Rutee Katreya

    He was saying that it is now universally deplored (he wasn’t saying that it was then).

    Irrelevant – any scientist not insanely racist has the sense to repudiate it now. He’s minimizing it now by trying to just treat it as some minor thing that is over and done with. Racism ain’t – even within the sciences, even within the natural sciences, or even within the sole field of medicinal science.

    Well ok, maybe it is, but “anti-intellectualism” is the very opposite of science, so I don’t see why you’re railing at scientists.

    I don’t blame scientists for shit that is beyond their control. I *do* blame them for being assholes, which is entirely within their control.

    Why sure, of course it is happening, he fully accepts that (“In some disciplines, this consilience is a fait accompli”). He knows that it is happening, but he also knows that it is meeting resistence from some quarters. He is arguing against that resistence.

    “Take our understanding of Politics.” Fuck, you are an illiterate asshole. He’s specifying it as a ‘future development’.

    I’m not sure what you’re trying to argue here. I’m sticking to my suggestion that natural scientists have an excellent track record of world-wide collaboration, perhaps a better record than any other field of human endeavour has.

    Charitable Aid. But you aren’t coming off hilariously arrogant. The point, also, is that we establish offices specifically to better facilitate this shit, and you’re… just kinda declaring the natural sciences are automatically superior to the mental offices in this.

  164. 164
    Rutee Katreya

    ACtually, I should be specific on that. Scientists contribute to the loss of respect for the Humanities, even as they fight anti-intellectualism… and its effect on the Sciences. They just aren’t as big a deal as, you know, everything else, at all.

  165. 165
    coelsblog

    163 Rutee Katreya:

    “Take our understanding of Politics.” Fuck, you are an illiterate asshole. He’s specifying it as a ‘future development’.

    Is he? OK, let’s examine what he says after “Take our understanding of Politics”:

    P: “The new sciences of the mind are reexamining the connections between politics and human nature”

    “Are examining” is a present tense, not about the future.

    P: “Humans, we are increasingly appreciating, are moralistic actors …”

    “We are increasingly appreciating” is something happening now, not in the future.

    P: “We are starting to grasp why these moralistic impulses …”

    “We are starting to grasp” is something happening now, not in the future.

    P: “The application of science to politics not only enriches our stock of ideas …”

    Again, “enriches”, not “will enrich”.

    P: “As best we can tell at present, the answers to the questions listed above are …”

    In other words the method he is advocating is ALREADY BEING APPLIED, it is already producing tenative results.

    Rutee: “Fuck, you are an illiterate asshole.” And: ” I *do* blame [scientists] for being assholes”.

    Nice projection here, can’t you see that you’re being an “asshole” in this discussion, yet objecting to such supposed behaviour from others?

  166. 166
    susanvan

    “Again, racism in medicine does not begin and end with Tuskegee.”

    This, like much of what you say, is not being argued against. Science, unlike scientists and novelist, is not racist.

    Rutee Katreya, your ability to argue is limited to swearing and straw men. You have an inability to admit when you are wrong (Pinker did NOT “indeed minimize those horrible, racist experiments and treat them as primarily a thing ‘scientism critics’ get worked up about”).

  167. 167
    coelsblog

    Charitable Aid.

    Well there’s an area fraught with politics, and an area in which effectiveness and value for money can be seriously questioned.

    The point, also, is that we establish offices specifically to better facilitate this shit, and you’re… just kinda declaring the natural sciences are automatically superior to the mental offices in this.

    You may “establish offices” to collaborate internationally, whereas natural scientists just get on with collaborating internationally, since talking to and collaborating with someone in another country or on another continent is as natural to us as talking to someone in the same building.

    Can you be specific here, what is it about talking to other scientists around the world that we can learn from the humanities? “Establishing offices” just sounds as though it would cost money and get in the way, why not just talk to other scientists directly?

  168. 168
    Rutee Katreya

    Is he? OK, let’s examine what he says after “Take our understanding of Politics”:

    \Sure, let’s.

    The application of science to politics not only enriches our stock of ideas, but also offers the means to ascertain which of them are likely to be correct. Political debates have traditionally been deliberated through case studies, rhetoric, and what software engineers call HiPPO (highest-paid person’s opinion).

    You were saying?

    Nice projection here, can’t you see that you’re being an “asshole” in this discussion, yet objecting to such supposed behaviour from others?

    You should probably actually read a social science textbook at some point. “Said a mean word I think applies to her” is not the definition of projection.

    Well there’s an area fraught with politics, and an area in which effectiveness and value for money can be seriously questioned.

    Pft, because Science never fails at being effective, and ignores politics entirely?

    You may “establish offices” to collaborate internationally, whereas natural scientists just get on with collaborating internationally, since talking to and collaborating with someone in another country or on another continent is as natural to us as talking to someone in the same building.

    Again, you’re proving you don’t read. Did you not understand why ‘offices’ was immediately followed by ‘historical records’ or ‘artifacts’?

    Can you be specific here, what is it about talking to other scientists around the world that we can learn from the humanities? “Establishing offices” just sounds as though it would cost money and get in the way, why not just talk to other scientists directly?

    You… do realize that the process of learning to deal with other cultures falls entirely within every humanities department in the english speaking world, right? I don’t think Scientists need our exact processes – although the sciences that deal in physical artifacts might, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they have their own lovingly cribbed architecture for this, that’s by no means all of them.

  169. 169
    coelsblog

    Rutee, I don’t see anything in your last post that actually rebuts anything I said. And you still haven’t told me specifically what you think scientists could learn from the humanities about talking to other scientists worldwide. There may indeed be such things, but so far you haven’t given examples (replying simply with snarky rhetorical questions doesn’t amount to giving such examples).

  170. 170
    susanvan

    Actually, Rutee Katreya, science doesn’t ever fail. You can’t argue against what science uncovers. Scientists, however, do fail.

    Science will tell you if you only send aid to poor regions, you will need to send even more aid in the future.

  171. 171
    Rutee Katreya

    Rutee Katreya, your ability to argue is limited to swearing and straw men.

    k

    You have an inability to admit when you are wrong (Pinker did NOT “indeed minimize those horrible, racist experiments and treat them as primarily a thing ‘scientism critics’ get worked up about”).

    I’m beginning to think you don’t even know what ‘minimization’ is in this context, honestly.

  172. 172
    Rutee Katreya

    Actually, Rutee Katreya, science doesn’t ever fail.

    If you want to play this semantic game, science doesn’t do anything at all, ever, much less uncover things.

    You can’t argue against what science uncovers. Scientists, however, do fail.

    A distinction only relevant when I’m speaking, I notice.

    Science will tell you if you only send aid to poor regions, you will need to send even more aid in the future.

    …Ah, I see, that would be why you’re blind to his minimization.

    And you still haven’t told me specifically what you think scientists could learn from the humanities about talking to other scientists worldwide.

    You… do realize that the process of learning to deal with other cultures falls entirely within every humanities department in the english speaking world, right?

    Unless you thinka ll scientists share a culture or something (Academic cultures vary considerably even within a country, so you can’t even say ‘they all share the culture of science!’)

  173. 173
    susanvan

    “Blind to minimization”? Not me, I get that it is a hard question. But ignoring it doesn’t make it go away.

    You are afraid of what science tells you. (That’s a metaphor. I know science isn’t whispering in your ear.)

    You remind me, Rutee Katreya, of the Darwinphobic hysterics who plug their ears and shout, “You may have come from a monkey, but I was created by God!”

  174. 174
    coelsblog

    Rutee, as I said, replying with snarky rhetorical questions is not the same as giving actual examples of things that scientists could learn from the humanities about talking to other scientists worldwide. Science already has a very good track record and culture of global communication and cooperation, perhaps as good as or better than the humanities do. This topic was originally your suggestion, but you’ve yet to substantiate it with anything.

  175. 175
    eriktrips

    Deep down, in the part of you that is smart and not protected by political correctness, you know Pinker is right about everything.

    Wow. This is rhetorically indistinguishable from the last thing my mother said to try to convince me that I am really still a born-again Christian like she is. All you have to do is replace “political correctness” with “rebellious impulses”, “Pinker” with “I”, and “everything” with “Jesus.”

    In your shoes? I would stop and consider why I was resorting to telling someone else what they really think instead of examining my own argument at the points where it was being critiqued.

  176. 176
    Rutee Katreya

    ^Ah, I missed that, but I’m not worried about Susanvan. I noticed it on scrolling down, she’s just a classic troll. It’s the most likely explanation of…

    That’s why when PZ says something dumb like there are other ways of progressing, it just throws those old religion-mongers a bone. “Ahha!” they cry, “The otherness is God’s domain–science can’t touch it.”

    As far as I can tell, the only point in using the term “science” is that some people use the term religion.

    Do you select the name brand or the off-brand? Your decision was predetermined. Science predicted it

    So I mean, pursuant to her request to consider I’m wrong… yeah, I was wrong to engage her :D

    Rutee, as I said, replying with snarky rhetorical questions is not the same as giving actual examples of things that scientists could learn from the humanities about talking to other scientists worldwide.

    That you think a ‘snarky’ reply (Incredulous questioning can be many things, but ‘snarky’ is not one of them) is diametrically opposed to answering your question directly says more about you than me.

    Science already has a very good track record and culture of global communication and cooperation,

    Now you’re walking back your claim to something defensible. Congrats.

  177. 177
    Rutee Katreya

    And no, I don’t feel the need to add more. You’re already ignoring what I did say. Surprise.

  178. 178
    susanvan

    Rutee Katreya, seriously, you do not know that you are snarky? I kind of thought you reveled in it. Resorting to calling someone a troll isn’t snarky? And how do you think we are all interpreting your swearing?

    I am sorry it my statement about your understanding Pinker on a deeper level was rude. I withdraw it.

    You didn’t, however, respond to my hard question. Science tells you if you send only aid to poor regions, you will need to send even more aid in the future. Do you send more and more aid every year?

  179. 179
    Rutee Katreya

    I do revel in being snarky – that’s how I know what I said wasn’t. “But nosir, Pinker didn’t engage in the divide” is snark. “You… do know how this works right?” isn’t.

    You didn’t, however, respond to my hard question. Science tells you if you send only aid to poor regions, you will need to send even more aid in the future. Do you send more and more aid every year?

    The evidence doesn’t suggest that at all, troll. I see no reason to play to a false premise unnecessarily.

  180. 180
    susanvan

    coelsblog and Rutee Katreya, I disagree with your pitting those who practice science against those who practice the humanities. It’s unproductive and it’s a false dilemma. There are good scientists and wrong-thinking scientists, just as there are good people in humanities and wrong-thinking people in humanities. We as humans can do practice both: we can be biologists who love to read and discuss novels and we can be English teachers who love to read and discuss a scientific study.

    What no one should want to do is pretend that the natural world is unnatural. When I read Morrison’s _Beloved_, Morrison better be using the character Beloved metaphorically. If she is not, then the book is crap. And that is why the humanities is losing ground. Too many people think ghosts are real in literature. I am sorry for you if you think that.

  181. 181
    susanvan

    “Incredulous questioning can be many things, but ‘snarky’ is not one of them”

    When have you ever dropped the snark for incredulity?

  182. 182
    coelsblog

    Rutee Katreya:

    “But nosir, Pinker didn’t engage in the divide” is snark. “You… do know how this works right?” isn’t.

    ‘Tis so!

  183. 183
    susanvan

    “The evidence doesn’t suggest that at all, troll. I see no reason to play to a false premise unnecessarily.”

    Yes, it does, Rutee Katreya. Do a science experiment in your mind. Feed, say, deer until they overpopulate an area that is, without your feeding them, unsustainable to their growing numbers. Then abruptly stop feeding them. What do you think happens?

    Do it in your mind. I don’t want any deer harmed. I wouldn’t do it to deer. I wouldn’t do it to people. Yet that is what we are doing.

  184. 184
    ChasCPeterson

    Incredulous questioning can be many things, but ‘snarky’ is not one of them

    wut

    The self-awareness is weak in this one.
    (so what else is new?)

  185. 185
    Dov Henis

    Scientism’s Whence and Whither

    What Holds In The Real World

    The Nobel Prize Committee Is Wrong. There is Definitely NO Higgs Particle. Gravitons are the elementary particles of the universe.
    Origin and nature of “may be gravitational waves” are continuously released gravitons since the last big-bang as singularity mass reconverts to energy.
    ============================

    On The Essence And Matrix Of The Universe-Life
    The following three sentences are the shortest data-based TOE. Seriously. Very seriously.
    The clearer the shorter

    Natural Selection to Self-Replication is Gravity

    - Self-replication is the ultimate mode of natural selection is the essence and drive and purpose of the universe. Period.
    - The pre-Big-Bang singularity is the ultimate self-replication (SR) of the cycling mass-energy universe. Period. (mother of universal SR mode…)
    - Earth’s RNA nucleotides life is just one of the myriad modes of self-replication.

    Dov Henis (comments from 22nd century)
    http://universe-life.com/
    http://universe-life.com/2012/11/14/701/
    -The 20yrs development, and comprehensive data-based scientism worldview, in a succinct format.
    -The Genome is a base organism evolved, and continuously modified, by the genes of its higher organism as their functional template.
    - Everything in the universe derives from mass-energy duality, from the universe cycle between its two poles all-mass/all-energy.
    - The Origin Of Gravitons is the ONLY thing unknown-unexplained in the Scientism Universe.

    PS: Spoon feeding

    The universe is a (circa 20 hillion yrs?) cyclic affair between all-mass and all-energy poles. NATURAL SELECTION of a mass format mandates energy intake because since the big-bang the resolved mass is reconverting at a constant rate from inert mass to energy, to moving mass. The mass that reconverts to energy SELF-REPLICATES to mass, in black holes, for the eventual re-singularity. The energy-to-mass SELF-REPLICATION process is GRAVITY. All this is enabled and goes on and mandated by/due to the small size and shape and inter-attraction of the gravitons that enable zero distance between them to re-form singularity.

    I hope that now it is understood what gravity is and why it is the monotheism of the universe…DH
    =================================================
    Black Holes Whence and Whither

    A.
    Black Holes Whence
    http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/345481/title/Cohabiting_black_holes_challenge_theory
    http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/351747/description/Milky_Ways_black_hole_pulling_in_gas_cloud
    From
    http://universe-life.com/2011/12/13/21st-century-science-whence-and-whither/
    http://universe-life.com/2012/09/02/all-the-mass-of-the-universe-formed-at-the-pre-big-bang-singularity/

    Galactic clusters formed by conglomeration?
    No. Galactic clusters formed by Big-Bang’s fragments dispersion, the released built-in singularity’s stresses, evidenced by their Newtonian behavior including their separation acceleration.

    The big bang is the shattering of the short-lived singularity mass into fragments that later became galactic clusters. This is inflation. The shattering is the start of movement of the shatters i.e. the start of reconversion of mass into energy, which is mass in motion. This reconversion proceeds at a constant rate since the big bang as the resolution of gravitons, their release from their shatters-clusters, proceeds at constant rate due to their weak specific force due to their small size.

    B.
    Black Holes Whither
    http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/345421/title/Team_glimpses_black_hole%E2%80%99s_secrets

    From
    http://universe-life.com/2011/12/10/eotoe-embarrassingly-obvious-theory-of-everything/

    A commonsensible conjecture is that Universe Contraction is initiated following the Big-Bang event, as released moving gravitons (energy) start reconverting to mass (gravity) and eventually returning to black holes, steadily leading to the re-formation of The Universe Singularity, simultaneously with the inflation and expansion, i.e. that universal expansion and contraction are going on simultaneously.

    Conjectured implications are that the Universe is a product of A Single Universal Black Hole with an extremely brief singularity of ALL the gravitons of the universe, which is feasible and possible and mandated because gravitation is a very weak force due to the small size of the gravitons, the primal mass-energy particles of the universe.

    This implies also that when all the mass of the presently expanding universe is consumed by the present black holes, expansion will cease and be replaced with empansion back to THE Single Universal Black Hole.

    Dov Henis (comments from 22nd century)

    ===========================

    The Universe, Some Updates

    What Big Banged To Produce The Universe
    From : http://universe-life.com/2011/12/10/eotoe-embarrassingly-obvious-theory-of-everything/
    A commonsensible conjecture is that Universe Contraction is initiated following the Big-Bang event, as released moving gravitons (energy) start reconverting to mass (gravity) and eventually returning to black holes, steadily leading to the re-formation of The Universe Singularity, simultaneously with the inflation and expansion, i.e. that universal expansion and contraction are going on simultaneously.
    Conjectured implications are that the Universe is a product of A Single Universal Black Hole with an extremely brief singularity of ALL the gravitons of the universe, which is feasible and possible and mandated because gravitation is a very weak force due to the small size of the gravitons, the primal mass-energy particles of the universe.
    This implies also that when all the mass of the presently expanding universe is collected and stored at very low energy level in black holes, expansion will cease and be replaced with empansion back to THE Single Universal Black Hole.

    Dov Henis (comments from 22nd century)

    ====================

    Universe Inflation And Expansion

    Inflation on Trial
    Astrophysicists interrogate one of their most successful theories
    http://www.sciencenews.org/view/feature/id/342219/title/Inflation_on_Trial
    Commonsense:
    Inflation and expansion are per Newton.
    Since the Big Bang galactic clusters loose mass at constant rate. Mass, gravitons, continue escaping at constant rate from their Big Bang fragments-clusters thus becoming energy, mass in motion, thus thrusting the clusters. Constant thrust and decreasing galactic clusters weight accelerate the separation of clusters from each other.
    Common sense.
    Dov Henis (comments from 22nd century)
    http://universe-life.com/

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