Tuesday, June 19, 2012

I haven't read Kuhn but I already understand his premise (as described e.g. in Wikipedia) well enough to know I'm not interested. I'm certain that science is different in nature from and superior to other knowledge systems, and Kuhn is unlikely to persuade me otherwise. As I said he's a minority position at best. It seems bizarre to me to argue that science is not gradually progressive and cumulative, when there is such an abundance of evidence for the opposite conclusion. The fact that the structure of DNA couldn't have been discovered without electron microscopy is just one of countless examples.

Suppose I built a time machine, and personally took you on a journey to the past, to the future, and to distant galaxies. Afterwards you might agree that science is superior to other knowledge systems. Many people would anyway. My point is that this machine already exists. It's called the Hubble telescope, and both of us already took the journey. The difference between us is that for me the journey was a game-changer, but you weren't impressed by it.

I think the primary source of heat in this discussion is that you're determined to prove that science is ordinary, just another knowledge system. I reject that assertion, and as far as I'm concerned you haven't even come close to proving it, any more than Kuhn did. Nor do I agree that Buddhism can be equated with science because they're both observing "nature". This is just a backhanded attempt to make science ordinary, by hiding the fact that science is a superior mode of observation, superior in the sense that it allows us to actually to learn what's true and what's rubbish. Science has revealed more factual information about the universe in the last 200 years than Buddhism revealed in thousands of years of navel-gazing.

I dislike Buddhism precisely because its adherents try to pass it off as compatible with science, when in fact it is clearly an inferior system, filled with self-justifying assumptions that are neither falsifiable nor predictive. Buddhism shares this attempted elevation to scientific status with many other cults, including Scientology, and I assume the purpose is to make occultism more palatable to an increasingly well-educated and skeptical public, particularly in developed countries where superstition is now often regarded as a sign of childishness. Throughout most of history people were so ignorant that they were trivially manipulated by unjustified religious authority, but this has changed rapidly in the modern period (e.g. in Northern Europe) as a consequence of widespread access to higher education.

I don't dispute that we use paradigms in science, and that they occasionally change. However that they don't just change willy-nilly because some guy in a yellow robe says he's become enlightened. Scientists have to prove their cases, and formulate their thoughts rigorously. A scientific paradigm changes when the overwhelming majority of people possessing demonstrated competence in a relevant field agree that the new paradigm fits the existing evidence better than the old paradigm did. Scientific understanding evolves over time, and as with most phenomena, the changes are often non-linear.

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