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Author Topic:   Stephen Jay Gould: The Hedgehog, the Fox, and the Magisterís Pox
MrHambre
Member (Idle past 24 days)
Posts: 1493
From: Framingham, MA, USA
Joined: 06-23-2003


Message 1 of 92 (759417)
06-11-2015 9:22 AM


Iíve been reading Gouldís last book, published after his death in 2002. The subtitle is Mending the Gap Between Science and the Humanities, which lays out the thesis of the work. Gould argues that the propaganda of the ďscience warsĒ has created the false impression that science is pitted against the humanities in eternal struggle, and describes a program to reconceptualize the relation between the two. The similar effort of E. O. Wilson (in his book Consilience) to do the same, Gould says, is exactly the sort of reductionist saber-rattling that perpetuates the science-vs.-humanities myth. Gould uses the metaphors of the fox and the hedgehog to describe approaches to human problem-solving. The fox has many tricks and can judge which strategy fits each situation; the hedgehog has one trick that has served it well throughout its history. The secret is to know which approach applies, flexibility or tenacity.

Gould is skeptical of our tendency toward dichotomization in the way we approach these matters. The science-vs.-religion canard is one that sells books and chews up bandwidth on message boards, but doesnít hold up to historical scrutiny. In fact, the fiercest battles the new researchers fought in the Scientific Revolution were not against the Church but against the entrenched Renaissance humanism that valued recovery of ancient lore from Aristotle and Pliny more than discovery through empirical research. After the dust had settled from the Ancients-vs.-Moderns dispute, however, the scientific industry created a secular mythology that persists to this day:

quote:
Scientists have tended to depict their own history as a steady march to truth, mediated by successful application of a universal and unchanging ďscientific methodĒ that only requires time to clear away the encumbering myths of a ďbad oldĒ past bound by strictures of theology or some other social impediment, and to accumulate the empirical data required to validate natureís true modes of operation. (p. 114)

The problem with this myth-making is that it not only oversimplifies a complicated cultural phenomenon, but also privileges scientific inquiry above all other areas of human creativity. This privilege reinforces a philistinism that is incompatible with the skepticism that fuels scientific inquiry. Gould describes the way Cornellís founder Andrew Dickson White created the myth that the Church had everyone in medieval Europe believing that the Earth is flat. More recently, the Sokal Hoax validated scientistsí condescension toward philosophy and ďscience studies.Ē (The scientific communityís triumphalism continues in the anti-humanistic pronouncements of science cheerleaders like Lawrence Krauss, who never passes up an opportunity to deride philosophy or to insult Gould himself even a decade after the manís death.) E. O. Wilsonís misguided attempt at reconciling science and the humanities typifies this idealized notion of the scientific method, and involves subjecting every field of human endeavor to empirical study. Gould points out that this strategy doesnít solve the problem of the naturalistic fallacy (in which what is canít tell us what ought), it merely ignores it. Gouldís strategy involves understanding the strengths and limitations of all human creative endeavors, rather than making a Linnaean hierarchy of them. He quotes author and naturalist Vladimir Nabokov: ďThere is no science without fancy, and no art without facts.Ē

Gouldís writing, as always, is superb. The strength of his vocabulary, and the wit and clarity of his prose, is simply a pleasure to experience. The complexity of his writing (with its literary and pop culture allusions) always matched that of his material. He wasnít only a paleontologist but also a historiographer of science, and he never reduced this approach to the series-of-celebrity-scientists narrative so common in pop science writing. To Gould, there was no way to understand the history of nature without also studying the nature of history.


Replies to this message:
 Message 2 by RAZD, posted 06-11-2015 10:56 AM MrHambre has responded

    
RAZD
Member
Posts: 18868
From: the other end of the sidewalk
Joined: 03-14-2004
Member Rating: 3.6


Message 2 of 92 (759425)
06-11-2015 10:56 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by MrHambre
06-11-2015 9:22 AM


Yeah, I had trouble getting through Consilience. It has some good concepts, particularly the consilence of information from different sources coming together in a way that reinforces each approach ... be it scientific or humanities.

... Gould uses the metaphors of the fox and the hedgehog to describe approaches to human problem-solving. ...

I also participated in some of the Occupy protests, and found their system of working towards consensus rather than majority opinion to be the best take-away. Something our political system could benefit from.

Enjoy


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This message is a reply to:
 Message 1 by MrHambre, posted 06-11-2015 9:22 AM MrHambre has responded

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MrHambre
Member (Idle past 24 days)
Posts: 1493
From: Framingham, MA, USA
Joined: 06-23-2003


Message 3 of 92 (759502)
06-12-2015 8:44 AM
Reply to: Message 2 by RAZD
06-11-2015 10:56 AM


the consilence of information from different sources coming together in a way that reinforces each approach ... be it scientific or humanities.

As Gould describes in the book, scientists see the idea that there are limits to the applicability of empirical inquiry as a red flag. But the notion that reductionist explanations are necessary for us to understand the arts or morality is a form of pseudoscience. There's a big difference between describing the brain states of people listening to music and the human experience of music. And making it sound like anything subjective is arbitrary and irrelevant is one of the pitfalls of scientism.
This message is a reply to:
 Message 2 by RAZD, posted 06-11-2015 10:56 AM RAZD has not yet responded

Replies to this message:
 Message 4 by Tangle, posted 06-12-2015 5:58 PM MrHambre has responded

    
Tangle
Member
Posts: 4984
From: UK
Joined: 10-07-2011
Member Rating: 2.9


Message 4 of 92 (759533)
06-12-2015 5:58 PM
Reply to: Message 3 by MrHambre
06-12-2015 8:44 AM


MrH writes:


As Gould describes in the book, scientists see the idea that there are limits to the applicability of empirical inquiry as a red flag.

And that's fair enough, why wouldn't they until proven wrong? It's just another hypothesis.

But the notion that reductionist explanations are necessary for us to understand the arts or morality is a form of pseudoscience.

This has the look, smell and feel of a straw man.

There's a big difference between describing the brain states of people listening to music and the human experience of music.

And there he is again.

I'm losing the plot a little....where are. You going with this?


Je suis Charlie. Je suis Ahmed. Je suis Juif.

Life, don't talk to me about life - Marvin the Paranoid Android

"Science adjusts it's views based on what's observed.
Faith is the denial of observation so that Belief can be preserved."
- Tim Minchin, in his beat poem, Storm.


This message is a reply to:
 Message 3 by MrHambre, posted 06-12-2015 8:44 AM MrHambre has responded

Replies to this message:
 Message 5 by MrHambre, posted 06-12-2015 7:48 PM Tangle has responded

  
MrHambre
Member (Idle past 24 days)
Posts: 1493
From: Framingham, MA, USA
Joined: 06-23-2003


Message 5 of 92 (759537)
06-12-2015 7:48 PM
Reply to: Message 4 by Tangle
06-12-2015 5:58 PM


quote:

As Gould describes in the book, scientists see the idea that there are limits to the applicability of empirical inquiry as a red flag.

And that's fair enough, why wouldn't they until proven wrong? It's just another hypothesis.

Well, because the entire enterprise of empirical inquiry is only supposed to deal with empirical factors, not our ideas of meaning and value. Science generates data, but it can't tell us what it means.

quote:
But the notion that reductionist explanations are necessary for us to understand the arts or morality is a form of pseudoscience.

This has the look, smell and feel of a straw man.


In that case you either think that we can approach the arts and ethics without science, or that art and morality are trivial, personal matters that aren't meaningful next to the hard sciences. Which is it?

quote:
There's a big difference between describing the brain states of people listening to music and the human experience of music.

And there he is again.


Well, there are a lot of people who feel they're getting an explanation of a phenomenon through a description of the brainwave activity of a person undergoing the phenomenon. Can I be excused for recognizing this as classic reductionism? What human experience can't be described as a change in brain chemistry, etc.?


This message is a reply to:
 Message 4 by Tangle, posted 06-12-2015 5:58 PM Tangle has responded

Replies to this message:
 Message 6 by Tangle, posted 06-13-2015 4:00 AM MrHambre has responded
 Message 36 by AZPaul3, posted 06-14-2015 7:33 PM MrHambre has responded

    
Tangle
Member
Posts: 4984
From: UK
Joined: 10-07-2011
Member Rating: 2.9


Message 6 of 92 (759561)
06-13-2015 4:00 AM
Reply to: Message 5 by MrHambre
06-12-2015 7:48 PM


MrH writes:

In that case you either think that we can approach the arts and ethics without science, or that art and morality are trivial, personal matters that aren't meaningful next to the hard sciences. Which is it?

I think neither. Why are you making these dichotomies? I understand that some - it seems to me, a very few - people think that everything about the human experience will ultimately be understood by science. That seems unreasonable to me, but it does seem more reasonable that we will make great inroads into it. Some things will be more amenable than others.

Well, there are a lot of people who feel they're getting an explanation of a phenomenon through a description of the brainwave activity of a person undergoing the phenomenon. Can I be excused for recognizing this as classic reductionism? What human experience can't be described as a change in brain chemistry, etc.?

But it is totally accurate to say that people's experiences are caused by changes in brain chemistry and electrical states. The more we understand the chemistry, the more we'll understand the person. It's highly likely that eventually we'll be able to predict thought and feelings based on them. - hell, we do now.

I'm not sure how far we'll be able to go with this, it strikes me that the human is far too complex a mechanism to reduce to its components and expect it to be no more than the sum of its parts. But I do expect us to go a very long way with it because the other view is hubris - we want to believe that we're special and can't be deconstructed and understood by a third party other than a god.


Je suis Charlie. Je suis Ahmed. Je suis Juif.

Life, don't talk to me about life - Marvin the Paranoid Android

"Science adjusts it's views based on what's observed.
Faith is the denial of observation so that Belief can be preserved."
- Tim Minchin, in his beat poem, Storm.


This message is a reply to:
 Message 5 by MrHambre, posted 06-12-2015 7:48 PM MrHambre has responded

Replies to this message:
 Message 7 by MrHambre, posted 06-13-2015 10:36 AM Tangle has responded
 Message 10 by mikechell, posted 06-13-2015 11:29 AM Tangle has responded

  
MrHambre
Member (Idle past 24 days)
Posts: 1493
From: Framingham, MA, USA
Joined: 06-23-2003


Message 7 of 92 (759579)
06-13-2015 10:36 AM
Reply to: Message 6 by Tangle
06-13-2015 4:00 AM


Tangle writes:

I understand that some - it seems to me, a very few - people think that everything about the human experience will ultimately be understood by science. That seems unreasonable to me, but it does seem more reasonable that we will make great inroads into it. Some things will be more amenable than others.


Don't get me wrong, I don't think there's nothing to be gained by studying the neurobiology involved in the human experience of, for instance, art or music. I just think that's a different matter than the subjective, personal experience of art and music or the way art resonates in cultures. Those issues are important matters, they're just not scientific ones.

Gould takes issue with the way Wilson defines a reductionist approach as "solving" matters by breaking them down into their constituent elements. Even in science, emergent properties can't be explained using this approach: defining water as H2O tells us nothing about the property of liquidity, because it's not contained in the constituent atoms. So a reductionist approach is going to be useful in some sense, but the notion that it's sufficient for explaining complex human cultural phenomena is simply not true.

I'm not sure how far we'll be able to go with this, it strikes me that the human is far too complex a mechanism to reduce to its components and expect it to be no more than the sum of its parts. But I do expect us to go a very long way with it because the other view is hubris - we want to believe that we're special and can't be deconstructed and understood by a third party other than a god.

I fully share your skepticism about the ultimate worth of such an approach. However, I wonder whether there's not an equal amount of hubris in the view that Scientific Man will not only tame time and space and decode the universe, but also solve existential questions about the meaning of existence with the tools of empirical inquiry. I certainly don't feel that human beings are "special" in that they're separate from the biosphere or blessed; but we're unique in the sense that we've developed an understanding of our place in the universe and our responsibility to each other and the rest of life on Earth.
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Replies to this message:
 Message 8 by Faith, posted 06-13-2015 10:53 AM MrHambre has not yet responded
 Message 18 by Tangle, posted 06-13-2015 12:45 PM MrHambre has responded
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Faith
Member
Posts: 25913
From: Nevada, USA
Joined: 10-06-2001
Member Rating: 1.1


Message 8 of 92 (759581)
06-13-2015 10:53 AM
Reply to: Message 7 by MrHambre
06-13-2015 10:36 AM


Science, Humanism and Spirituality
I certainly don't feel that human beings are "special" in that they're separate from the biosphere or blessed; but we're unique in the sense that we've developed an understanding of our place in the universe and our responsibility to each other and the rest of life on Earth.

I always felt we were special, long before I was a Christian, and I resented scientific reductionism with its unbelievable arrogance in reducing us and our amazing abilities and our complicated history to the lowest materialist ponderings of the ********* / stooppidest scientist out there. I accepted evolution so I didn't really have an explanation for our amazing uniqueness and value, how our qualities could possibly have come up out of the material universe, I simply recognized that we are worth so much more than that and that aligned me with the Humanists in this conflict you are talking about.

So when in my forties I became a Christian I found enormous satisfaction in the Biblical view of humanity's great worth, in spite of our great sinfulness, which explained another aspect of humanity I hadn't even thought about much.

But all I really wanted to say here is that human specialness includes the reality of soul or spirit, and these are very real though denied by arrogant Science despite the fact science has no means to detect or measure them.

And I like science. It's just way out of its proper sphere when it makes comments on spiritual matters, even the matters you mention of art and humanities.

Edited by Faith, : No reason given.


This message is a reply to:
 Message 7 by MrHambre, posted 06-13-2015 10:36 AM MrHambre has not yet responded

Replies to this message:
 Message 9 by Tangle, posted 06-13-2015 11:21 AM Faith has responded
 Message 16 by ringo, posted 06-13-2015 12:18 PM Faith has responded

    
Tangle
Member
Posts: 4984
From: UK
Joined: 10-07-2011
Member Rating: 2.9


Message 9 of 92 (759583)
06-13-2015 11:21 AM
Reply to: Message 8 by Faith
06-13-2015 10:53 AM


Re: Science, Humanism and Spirituality
Faith writes:

I always felt we were special

We all know *you're* special, Faith.

That aside, it's this mistaken idea that's causing all the problems. You, like all your ancestors, proved to themselves how special they were by creating a god to create them. After all, only a god could create someone as special as you.

Horseshit of course but there you are - mankind's belief in God(s) explained.

Once you understand that man created god, it's pretty easy to work out why man couldn't/can't agree on which god - they were isolated from each other so they each made up their own forms of god. You could say that god diversity evolved.


Je suis Charlie. Je suis Ahmed. Je suis Juif.

Life, don't talk to me about life - Marvin the Paranoid Android

"Science adjusts it's views based on what's observed.
Faith is the denial of observation so that Belief can be preserved."
- Tim Minchin, in his beat poem, Storm.


This message is a reply to:
 Message 8 by Faith, posted 06-13-2015 10:53 AM Faith has responded

Replies to this message:
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mikechell
Inactive Member


Message 10 of 92 (759585)
06-13-2015 11:29 AM
Reply to: Message 6 by Tangle
06-13-2015 4:00 AM


Well, there are a lot of people who feel they're getting an explanation of a phenomenon through a description of the brainwave activity of a person undergoing the phenomenon.

I understand that some - it seems to me, a very few - people think that everything about the human experience will ultimately be understood by science.

The above statements fly in the face of those who

... want to believe that we're special ...

Unfortunately, for those people, we aren't. We are just an organic result of millions of years of selection and evolution. When science catches up (if the race lives long enough) and can create an inorganic computer with the capabilities of our organic one ... what will you say then? Artificial Intelligence is coming ... maybe not in our lifetime, but it's coming. When it gets here, do you revise religion to give the A.I. a soul?

We have developed into creatures that can realize their own death. Because we can't stand the thought of being dead, we've created a "place" (heaven) where our ... lifeforce? ... soul? ... essence? ... whatever you want to call it, will continue to live after the body dies.
If you accept that, then you can do good deeds for how they make you feel, not because it qualifies you to be god's friend and allows you a seat at his table. That turns your whole life into a hazing event, to prove your good enough to join god's fraternity/sorority.


evidence over faith ... observation over theory

This message is a reply to:
 Message 6 by Tangle, posted 06-13-2015 4:00 AM Tangle has responded

Replies to this message:
 Message 11 by Tangle, posted 06-13-2015 11:40 AM mikechell has responded
 Message 12 by MrHambre, posted 06-13-2015 11:45 AM mikechell has responded
 Message 17 by nwr, posted 06-13-2015 12:28 PM mikechell has not yet responded

  
Tangle
Member
Posts: 4984
From: UK
Joined: 10-07-2011
Member Rating: 2.9


Message 11 of 92 (759588)
06-13-2015 11:40 AM
Reply to: Message 10 by mikechell
06-13-2015 11:29 AM


Mike writes:

Unfortunately, for those people, we aren't. We are just an organic result of millions of years of selection and evolution. When science catches up (if the race lives long enough) and can create an inorganic computer with the capabilities of our organic one ... what will you say then?

Probably something like 'wow, that's cool.'

Artificial Intelligence is coming ... maybe not in our lifetime, but it's coming. When it gets here, do you revise religion to give the A.I. a soul?

Now why would I do that? I think you may be confusing me with someone else.

We have developed into creatures that can realize their own death. Because we can't stand the thought of being dead, we've created a "place" (heaven) where our ... lifeforce? ... soul? ... essence? ... whatever you want to call it, will continue to live after the body dies.
If you accept that, then you can do good deeds for how they make you feel, not because it qualifies you to be god's friend and allows you a seat at his table. That turns your whole life into a hazing event, to prove your good enough to join god's fraternity/sorority.

We have developed into creatures that can realize their own death. Because we can't stand the thought of being dead, we've created a "place" (heaven) where our ... lifeforce? ... soul? ... essence? ... whatever you want to call it, will continue to live after the body dies.
If you accept that, then you can do good deeds for how they make you feel, not because it qualifies you to be god's friend and allows you a seat at his table. That turns your whole life into a hazing event, to prove your good enough to join god's fraternity/sorority.

Sure.


Je suis Charlie. Je suis Ahmed. Je suis Juif.

Life, don't talk to me about life - Marvin the Paranoid Android

"Science adjusts it's views based on what's observed.
Faith is the denial of observation so that Belief can be preserved."
- Tim Minchin, in his beat poem, Storm.


This message is a reply to:
 Message 10 by mikechell, posted 06-13-2015 11:29 AM mikechell has responded

Replies to this message:
 Message 13 by mikechell, posted 06-13-2015 11:49 AM Tangle has not yet responded

  
MrHambre
Member (Idle past 24 days)
Posts: 1493
From: Framingham, MA, USA
Joined: 06-23-2003


(1)
Message 12 of 92 (759591)
06-13-2015 11:45 AM
Reply to: Message 10 by mikechell
06-13-2015 11:29 AM


Tangle writes:

We all know *you're* special, Faith.


Sometimes, the low road is the only way to go.

mikechell writes:

We are just an organic result of millions of years of selection and evolution.


Well, scientifically speaking, that's exactly what we are. But it's a mistake to say that's all we are. I'm a humanist who believes there's something unique and meaningful about human existence and potential; I'm not surprised science can't tell us what it is, because it's not really a scientific question.
This message is a reply to:
 Message 10 by mikechell, posted 06-13-2015 11:29 AM mikechell has responded

Replies to this message:
 Message 14 by mikechell, posted 06-13-2015 11:54 AM MrHambre has responded

    
mikechell
Inactive Member


Message 13 of 92 (759592)
06-13-2015 11:49 AM
Reply to: Message 11 by Tangle
06-13-2015 11:40 AM


Sorry, Tangle
I wasn't arguing with you ... just using parts of statements to forward the ideas that ... we're only human, and not the experiments of some "supreme being".

evidence over faith ... observation over theory

This message is a reply to:
 Message 11 by Tangle, posted 06-13-2015 11:40 AM Tangle has not yet responded

  
mikechell
Inactive Member


Message 14 of 92 (759594)
06-13-2015 11:54 AM
Reply to: Message 12 by MrHambre
06-13-2015 11:45 AM


We are just an organic result of millions of years of selection and evolution.

Well, scientifically speaking, that's exactly what we are. But it's a mistake to say that's all we are. I'm a humanist who believes there's something unique and meaningful about human existence and potential; I'm not surprised science can't tell us what it is, because it's not really a scientific question.

Science will, if we live up to our meaning and potential, be able to tell us everything that we are. The only meaning and potential we have is to take the steps necessary to continue our existence.


evidence over faith ... observation over theory

This message is a reply to:
 Message 12 by MrHambre, posted 06-13-2015 11:45 AM MrHambre has responded

Replies to this message:
 Message 15 by MrHambre, posted 06-13-2015 12:00 PM mikechell has responded

  
MrHambre
Member (Idle past 24 days)
Posts: 1493
From: Framingham, MA, USA
Joined: 06-23-2003


Message 15 of 92 (759598)
06-13-2015 12:00 PM
Reply to: Message 14 by mikechell
06-13-2015 11:54 AM


Science will, if we live up to our meaning and potential, be able to tell us everything that we are.

You're a true man of faith.

ABE: Let's not make science sound like something it isn't (namely religion). It's a tool humans developed to understand natural phenomena through empirical testing. It's not supposed to tell us the meaning of life.

Edited by MrHambre, : No reason given.


This message is a reply to:
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Replies to this message:
 Message 19 by mikechell, posted 06-13-2015 10:56 PM MrHambre has responded

    
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