Monday, June 25, 2012

Question 4 appears to be a trap. If I say that science is aesthetic, then it's merely subjective, in which case how is it any more "true" than art? On the other hand if I say science is objective, then how do scientists make value judgments? This trap was a major theme of Robert Pirsig's classic philosophical novel "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance". He attempted to solve the dilemma by positing the existence of "Quality," a preconscious, instinctual value awareness that was neither subject nor object. He explicitly equated Quality with Zen, e.g. by stating "The Quality that can be defined is not the real Quality" (paraphrasing Lao Tze).

Unlike Pirsig I'm not going to retreat into mysticism. The scientific search for better explanations may involve aesthetics, but that's not what makes it scientific. What makes it scientific is the requirement that explanations be testable and predictive. This requirement is what distinguishes science from other human endeavors.

If we generalize aesthetics by equating it with value judgments, ALL endeavors involve aesthetics, and not only human endeavors either. Dolphins and ants also make value judgments, though we might find them hard to relate to. But even if you reject my broad definition of aesthetics, clearly many if not most human endeavors involve aesthetics. However I challenge you to identify a non-scientific human endeavor which requires all explanations to be testable and predictive.

So far the only thing I've described as "boring" is mysticism. Mysticism bores me because it's childish and defeatist. Creationism is a good example. Faced with one of the most challenging, fascinating questions of all time--how complex life came to exist on earth--Creationists say: "don't ask." What could be more boring than that? There are no mysteries in science, only unsolved problems.

Freedom is such a vague and overloaded term that I can't even begin to answer questions 1-3 until we've agreed on a definition of freedom in this context. The same goes for autonomy.

3 comments:

Katya said...

I agree with the statement that Science presupposes "testing" of the ideas, and proving them as true or false, but Art as I know it, also uses this method, just the "proved" has different context and meaning, but proving is a necessary step.

Katya said...

Isn't there aesthetics involved in the thought process itself? Isn't it the "Zen" discussed by Pirsig? Wouldn't this attitude or "quality" be valued in art or Science alike?

Chris Korda said...

"Wouldn't this attitude or 'quality' be valued in art or Science alike?"

Yes, but that doesn't make science any less special. It's the specialness of science that Lydia is attacking. The specialness has nothing to do with the presence (or absence) of aesthetics, in fact I'm claiming aesthetics apply to nearly everything we do. The source of the specialness is that science (and only science) insists that explanations be testable and predictive. The term "testable" has a special meaning in formal science. It implies not only that observations and predictions must be rationally explained, but also that they must be REPEATABLE by your PEERS. You can claim to have proved that the moon is made of cheese, but it doesn't mean anything unless other scientists can follow the same steps and reproduce your result. Look up "science" in Wikipedia for more on that.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Science