Re: Empiricism

Moorad Alexanian (alexanian@UNCWIL.EDU)
Fri, 17 Apr 1998 09:21:08 -0500 (EST)

At 04:37 PM 4/16/98 -0400, Massimo Pigliucci wrote:

>Ok, I like philosophy too, especially over a beer. But it is very easy
>to get very silly with this line of reasoning. See, while there
>(probably) is only one reality (yes, that's an assumption, but a pretty
>darn consistent one!), there are many alternative "logics", only one of
>which (at most) corresponds to reality.
>So, yes, the scientific method is empirical, and yes, you have at one
>point to take the "rationalist leap". So what? That leap is very very
>small (as Will Provine has repeatedly pointed out) compared to the
>ir-rational one which makes you assume the existence of supernatural
>entities and phenomena of which you have absolutely no knowledge or
>tangible experience.

Dear Massimo,

I have often said that the real failure of our educational system is that it
knocks rather than enhances the common sense in students. I believe that
scientists tend to reduce the whole of reality to their field of expertise
and such reduction leads invariably to nihilism.

As an Armenian who never knew his grandfathers, many aunts and
uncles---victims of the Armenian Genocide by the Turks around WWI---I have
spoken with survivors, grandmothers, father, mother, etc. To them the human
experience is much more important than the human attempt of understanding
nature. It is conversations with ordinary people, and not scientific peers,
that questions of justice, meaning, purpose, etc. come mainly to the fore.
These are the ultimate questions which poets write about, artists create
their art, inspires the music of composers, etc.

Scientists in the midst of their pride forget such simple but utterly
important factors when making grandiose claims. Witness Hawking and his
claim of "knowing the mind of God." Utter nonsense!! Let us be humble lest
we become fools.

>Therefore, if what you are saying is that there are limits to empiricism
>and in general to human knowledge, I would certainly not disagree. The
>facts remain that:
>1- empirical investigations are the best ways of finding out about the
>world (and they *work*)
>2- supernaturalism and mysticism make unfounded assumptions (and,
>especially, *don't* work).

Many scientists are fooled by the thought that if he/she understood all that
there is to be known scientifically that total knowledge will ensue and thus
satisfaction and peace. First, I believe that is not possible. As Max Planck
said: "God is the beginning of every religion and at the end of the natural
sciences." Nevertheless, I wish God would grant Massimo a preview of all he
can know with the aid of his empirical investigations---a sort of "It is a
wonderful life." I believe then Massimo would understand the utter
loneliness of knowing only the unsatisfying aspect physical reality.

Take care,