Friday, June 22, 2012

The distinction you make between science and pure science has no basis in fact. There is no such category as pure science. What scientist would willingly be called impure? Where is the journal of impure science? Science either conforms with the definition of science as previously stated, or it isn't science. Jeremy Jackson's ethical polemics are NOT science, they are his opinions, and he would be the first to admit this. However any results he publishes in peer-reviewed journals ARE science, and in this area he is obliged to conform to the same standards as any other scientist. His peers check his methods and results, and if they are found wanting he is refuted mercilessly, regardless of how popular he may be.

Biology is as falsifiable as any other science and Jeremy Jackson would be horribly offended if you accused him of practicing non-hierarchical science. Conversely Richard Dawkins would be equally offended if you accused him of being a tool of the power structure. Dividing scientists into good guys and bad guys may be rhetorically convenient, but it's not supported by the evidence. Bad guys do great science, and vice versa. Robert Oppenheimer was reviled for his political views, but his science was sound. Albert Einstein was a pacifist hero but he spent half his life refining a theory that was bunk. Scientists try to explain phenomena, they make errors, the errors are eventually caught, and that's how science advances.

Science depends on the power and leisure provided by civilization, in order to develop the critical infrastructure of logic, mathematics, physics, chemistry, etc. The entire scientific enterprise develops hierarchically; more specialized fields are built out of blocks provided by more fundamental fields. You may dislike science because it depends on civilization, but the same can be said of modern art. Should Jasper Johns' paintings be destroyed because he used acrylic, which is a type of plastic?

Pythagorean geometry hasn't changed in 2,500 years, regardless of whether it was useful to the many power structures that have come and gone since then. The power structure of ancient Greece is long gone, but their geometry is still with us. It was always true, and it will remain true after humanity disappears. That's why we include Pythagorean proofs in our
messages to extraterrestrials.

Of course science has intensified humanity's ethical problems. No one is saying otherwise. That's what I mean when I say science has revealed disturbing truths. Science both requires power, and enables power. It's a positive feedback, and positive feedback is notoriously hard to control, as we're currently discovering with climate change. Power could be directed towards egalitarian aims, but that's determined by ethics, not science. As I said previously, humans could turn out to be great at science but lousy at ethics. On the other hand, there's no scientific proof that humanity has to use its power to destroy itself. In the absence of intergalactic distress calls, E.O.Wilson's claim that intelligence tends to snuff itself out remains merely his (and my) OPINION.

I sometimes wonder if you're simply opposed to power, on the grounds that authority is impossible without it. This would at least make sense. The problem is that power has always been with us, the myth of the noble savage notwithstanding. Early humans wielded power, exerted authority, and modified their environment, just more slowly and on a smaller scale. Fire is power, and we can accuse Homo erectus of abusing it, but I'm sure they were glad to have it.

I asked some questions at the end of my previous reply, which I believe cut to the heart of this whole matter. I look forward to receiving your answers.

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