Part 18: Science, Human Action, The Search for “Truth”, and Consequences

Thinking on the Potential Dangers of Science Myopia (Photo: Joao Silas, Unsplash.com)

Machine Messiahs (18/20)

© 2018, Barry L. Linetsky. All Rights Reserved.

As we have seen, there seems to be a significant number of modern scientists and influential intellectuals who, in the post-modernist tradition, want to obliterate the human mind by obliterating the need for a science of epistemology. Their pretense that they are advocates of reason under the guise of science is just that: a pretense to garner social credibility and respect.

Many go one step further. The more ideological among them take to bullying an unknowledgeable and trusting public predisposed to deferring to self-proclaimed but ideologically motivated and politically aggressive experts. In the worst of cases, scientists knowingly conspire in the guise of mercenary soldiers to produce fraudulent research in support of ideological and political ends.

Increasingly, it seems as if a politically motivated and ideologically aggressive scientists want to take their alleged objective conclusions about science and advocate for public policy initiatives and coercive government tactics. Many don’t just want to be voices for change suggested by their research, and instead become activist advocates for government to restrict freedom and intervene through the initiation of force to ensure “the public” obeys their learned and not-to-be-questioned opinions about the achievement of desired outcomes.

With the professed certainty of dictatorial central planners and social engineers, they want to manufacture behavioural outcomes to ensure human action aligns with the requirements of the “scientific” evidence as preached by a consensus of opinions of like-minded scientists.

When the ideology of mechanical materialism and positivism is layered on top of this anti-enlightenment hubris, the attack on human freedom becomes that much easier and more likely.

Where there is deemed to be no valid concept of mind it is prudent and expedient to deny free will, and where there is no free will, there is no need to validate a human method of discovery and no need for any explanation for the justification of the suppression of the “scientifically” irrational and delusional desire on the part of individuals for freedom. If, when, and where science takes precedence over freedom – where the proper balance and interrelationship between the two are dropped, setting science loose as a floating abstraction untethered from its grounding in reality – the political forces that favor political statism and collectivist ideology over and above a social philosophy of individualism and freedom, are more likely to become motivated to move people in the ways of “science” and “beyond freedom and dignity.” “Rational” humans must be influenced to align with “scientific” facts through scientific social planning.

Behavioral scientist B.F. Skinner wrote in Science and Human Behavior, “The hypothesis that man is not free is essential to the application of scientific method to the study of human behavior.”

If all of this seems irrational and self-contradictory, it is. There is no logic, rationality, or coherence in the epistemological grounding of post-modern science. In logic, as in reality, there can be no contradictions. When logical contradictions are allowed to exist within a system, anything goes. Contradictions are an agent of destruction and a signal that one’s thinking is misaligned with reality. The remedy is to check the validity of one’s premises and to root out the error. (See Principle of Explosion.)

But what does logic and reason matter to those who hold that rationality and coherence are meaningless imaginary constructs of the human brain? Consistency doesn’t matter to those who crusade with unhindered enthusiasm under the guise of scientific expertise and demonstrate the need for social experimentation to express their own mind and their own will through purposeful action, while at the same time thinking that it is imperative that they impose their own thinking and conclusions on the minds and wills of others who are told that their own willful thinking is an illusion?

What does logic matter to those who believe they are among a select class of iconoclasts with superior cognitive capabilities and an ability to lift humanity by leveraging the implements of social and physical coercion controlled by their political partners to “convince” those who are unable to understand what they are meant to know to conform to the “consensus” dictates of the new philosopher kings: scientists?

The fact is that as Mises and Hayek and others have identified, these materialist, positivist, determinist scientists are wrong about the restricting the narrow limits of science to that which investigates only the natural sciences. Their narrow idea of science is irrational, self-refuting and anti-science. It is an example of the fallacy of definition by non-essentials, and as such, it has the potential to misguide well-meaning human action and cause unnecessary harm.

Science is not defined by what it studies (physical nature versus human action), but rather by the purpose and nature of the study itself. Science is the act of investigating, acquiring and systematizing knowledge.

The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary defines science as: 1. The state or fact of knowing; knowledge or cognizance ofsomething specified or implied; 2. Knowledge acquired by study; acquaintance with or mastery of any department of learning; 3. A particular branch of knowledge or study; a recognized department of learning; 4. A branch of study which is concerned with a connected body of demonstrated truths or with observed facts systematically classified and more or less colligated by being brought under general laws, and, which includes trustworthy methods for the discovery of new truths within its own domain; 5. The kind of knowledge or intellectual activity of which the ‘sciences’ are examples.

Individual human beings must act on their own behalf to survive. The struggle imposed by the fallacy of scientistic prejudice, which rejects all social sciences grounded in human action as being valid subjects of scientific study, plays itself out with regards to who’s mind is to rule over the actions of the individual: the individual him or herself, or someone of presumed higher authority? Are individuals responsible autonomous agents and ends-in-themselves, or the property of others and fodder for the whims of dictators?

A key question for Mises was whether and how science could be put to the proper use to which it had been devised, as a tool in the discovery of knowledge in service to acting individuals co-existing peacefully in society. His conclusion and warning was that science had denigrated to the status of a cult that at best was indifferent to the error of its ways and its epistemological support for totalitarianism and opposition to human freedom and peaceful cooperation.

The characteristic feature of Western civilization is not its scientific achievements, wrote Mises, but rather “the establishment of a social order in which, by the instrumentality of the profit-and-loss system, the most eminent members of society are prompted to serve to the best of their abilities the well-being of the masses of less gifted people.” (The Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science, 128.)

Mises not only warned the world, but demolished by means of an economic science developed from first principles that the only alternative to such a social order of individual cooperation and market-driven rewards

…is the totalitarian system, which in the name of a fictitious entity, “society,” a group of directors determines the fate of all the people. It is paradoxical indeed that the plans for the establishment of a system that, by fully regulating the conduct of every human being, would annihilate the individual’s freedom were proclaimed as the cult of science. Saint-Simon usurped the prestige of Newton’s laws of gravitation as a cloak for his fantastic totalitarianism, and his disciple, Comte, pretended to act as the spokesman of science when he tabooed, both as vain and as useless, certain astronomical studies that only a short time later had produced some of the nineteenth-century’s most remarkable scientific results. Marx and Engels arrogated for their socialist plans the label “scientific.” The socialist or communist prepossession and activities of outstanding champions of logical positivism and “unified science” are well known.

The history of science is the record of achievement of individuals who worked in isolation and, very often, met with indifference or even open hostility on the part of their contemporaries. You cannot write a history of science “without names.” What matters is the individual, not “team work.” One cannot “organize” or “institutionalize” the emergence of new ideas. A new idea is precisely an idea that did not occur to those who designed the organizational frame, that defies their plans, and may thwart their intentions. Planning other peoples’ actions means to prevent them from planning for themselves, means to deprive them of their essential human quality, means enslaving them.

The great crisis of our civilization is the outcome of this enthusiasm for all-round planning. There have always been people prepared to restrict their fellow citizens’ right and power to choose their own conduct. The common man always looked askance upon all those who eclipsed him in any regard, and he advocated conformity, Gleichschaltung. What is new and characterizes our age is that the advocates of uniformity and conformity are raising their claims on behalf of science. (The Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science, 128-129.)

We know how these ideas and the abuse of epistemology to destroy reason and to defend positivistic science played out in the bloody history of the 20thcentury between the ideologies of individualism and collectivism when the racial or nationalist group was of the essence and constituted the truth of what was real, and individual citizens were treated as pre-programed components of a larger biological or mechanical entity, like bees in a hive. Under totalitarian ideology, each individual citizen bee has a duty to conform to the commands of the queen bee, and each is expendable in service to queen and her hive.

If you listen carefully to the proclamations of many of today’s prominent scientists and politicians, they want to assume the role of queen bee, and expect all others to conform and do as they are told. And why shouldn’t we follow orders? Operating from within their science-supported belief system, it’s not like the rest of us have free will or autonomy. It’s not as if freedom, responsibility or morality enters into consideration. It’s not as if we are sovereign individuals capable of meaningful action. Individuals are considered to be mere fragments of the collective machinery of physical inevitability.

NEXT: Part 19. The Scientific Roots of Production and Destruction

Mises: The A Priori Nature of Human Action (pdf)

Barry Linetsky has learned a considerable amount from the writings of Mises and Hayek. Barry makes his living specializing in value-driven strategic management, and is the author of the acclaimed business biography The Business of Walt Disney and the Nine Principles of His Success (Theme Park Press, 2017) and Free Will: Sam Harris Has It (Wrong), both available from amazon. He frequently blogs at www.BarryLinetsky.com and has been published in the Ivey Business Journal and Rotman Magazine. Twitter @BizPhilosopher.

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