By Theo Theocharis
200A Merton Road,
London SW18 5SW,
In our postmodern times, the rejection (or subversion) of both terms 'science' and 'truth' has become an almost universal affliction. The correct definition of these (and a few other related) terms is given here as fully as the Challenging Viewpoints requirements allow.
The "modern" and the "postmodern"
The etymological meaning of the term "modern" is: "of the present or recent times; contemporary". The etymological meaning of the term "postmodern" is: "what has come (or will come) after the "modern".
In the nineteenth century, certain new ideas in theology were designated as "modern". To the best of my knowledge, this was the first time ever that this term was employed in a significantly philosophical context. The same term "modern" was later used successively in the twentieth century for new ideas in many other disciplines: physics, art, music, poetry, literature, architecture. In the middle of the twentieth century, the term "postmodern" was employed to describe still newer ideas in all these and in other disciplines. Owing to the multiplicity of the disciplines; the diversity, disimilarity, and disparity of the ideas; and the difficulty of the whole subject; not unpredictably, a great cloud of confusion arose as to the character of the ideas being described by (and hence the precise meaning of) both terms "modern" and "postmodern" (and their derivatives). The whole of this essay is only the beginning of an attempt to clear up this and many other confusions.
In the meantime, throughout most of this essay, both terms "modern" and "postmodern" (and their derivatives) are both rendered "(post-)modern". This being a very big issue, the reason will be explained later.
Why has the (post-)modernist "Mickey Mouse" art been elevated in this century above classical art?
Why are (post-)modernist "noisicians" widely regarded in this century more highly than classical musicians?
Why has the (post-)modernist "theatre of the absurd" gained so much ground in this century over the traditional theatre of the serious?
Why has factual knowledge and theoretical rigour in all disciplines in traditional education been replaced by "airy-fairyness" in (post-)modernist education?
OFFICIAL VIEWPOINT IS AT BEST INFINTILE
Very few professionals whose profession is either a (supposedly) proper scientific discipline or a discipline having a close link with science have ever bothered to ask (never mind answer) the question: What is science? The few who have, invariably say that science is the systematic study of observational data in order to gain an understanding of the world around us. They may also say that the business of the scientist is to make models or theories that work. When fresh data come along which do not fit the existing model(s), a new model is constructed that "works" with the fresh data. As they invariably neglect to try to gain any deeper understanding of "understanding", theirs is at best a SantaClaus-type of "understanding". For the (human) infant, the SantaClaus theory of christmas gifts works unfailingly year after year. It follows that according to the official viewpoint as to what science is, the Santa Claus theory of christmas gifts is a proper scientific theory. Fortunately, the infant usually has grown-up guardians who protect the infant from the infant's intellectual immaturity. Who is to protect the scientific (and philosophical and political) leaders of humanity (and humanity itself) from the their crass intellectual immaturity?
Moreover, the laboratory rat all the time makes models that "work" in order to find its way to the intermittently altered location of rat-food in the experimental maze. It follows that according to the official viewpoint as to what science is, the laboratory rat is a proper scientist. Such has been the (intellectual) descent of (un-)scientific man in our benighted (post-)modern era. In fact if one requests a definition of (post-)modernity, this would be the best possible canditate.
All living organisms today have already been rigorously selected and programmed by the austere and harsh evolutionary process to be able to cope with everyday tasks and thus survive in the cut-throat world of nature. Thus science has been officially reduced to ordinaryience or even banalience, and intellectually the human species has been diminished to the status of just about any other species.
Nowadays the official science spokesmen invariably concede that science is only one of many ways of producing "Truth"; only a few insist that it is the most reliable way. In fact only the scientific method (and only when correctly applied) can generate thuth. Conversly, apart from the obvious, the only truth possible is by definition scientific.
THE MOST FUNDAMENTAL SCIENCE
Moreover, it is univerally agreed that the whole subject of discussing the definition and meaning of "science" is not part of science, but instead it belongs to the so-called "metaphysics" or philosophy. In fact the whole subject of discussing the definition and meaning of "science" is the most basic, fundamental, and indispensable part of science; anyone who does not know (or does not care) what science is cannot possibly call themselves a "scientist".
Science Versus Non-science
From this point follows the embarrassing conclusion that all those millions of people throughout the world who work in university faculties of science; (or technology; or engineering; or medicine;) and in industrial and government laboratories; and have never reflected on what exactly their work is supposed to be; cannot possibly be real scientists; and their work cannot possibly be genuinely scientific! What is it then?
What really goes on in the above named type of institutions is scarsely any authentic science. It is true that there is some house-maverickience, some tinker-at-the-edgeience, some jigsaw-puzzlience, some flukience, some spin-offience, some muddle-throughience; and a great deal of fine-tunience, run-of-the-millience, one-trackience, parochialience, and step-by-steppience, but these can scarcely qualify as real science.
What follows are very common non-scientific activities that are either honestly mistaken or dishonestly masqueraded as science, and this is what mainly happens in:
routinience, minutiaence, marginalience;
stamp-collectience, trivialience, banalience;
orthodoxience, status-quoience, toe-the-(party-)lineience, yes-manience;
herd-instinctience, parrotience, robotience;
blinkerience, straitjacketience, metal-detectorience;
ad-hockience, arbitrarience, random-walkience, haphazardience;
groping-in-the-darkience, trial-and-errorience, hit-and-missience;
jump-before-you-thinkience, wild-goose-chaseience, botch-upience;
Santa-Clausience, emperor's-new-clothesience, mythience;
jump-on-the-bandwagonience, flow-with-the-streamience, blow-with-the-windience, careerience;
toadyence, cronyence, lackeyence, sycophancience, stoogeience;
close-rankience, ring-fencience, circle-the-wagonience,
freeloadience, gravy-trainience, parasitience;
carte-blanchience, blanc-checkience, money-burnience.
Superficial competence in complex computation and fancy mathematics is very often employed to conceal the much more serious incompetences in the more basic (and more important) faculties of science.
THE BEGINNING OF SCIENCE
The best possible one-sentence definition of science is this: Science is the endeavour to discover the non-obvious truths - of both nature and society.
The historically fully-documented answer to the following question has a tremendous cultural significance, and it will further illustrate my arguments: When did the Japanese first discover that the Earth is spherical? In the sixteenth century, when Jesuit missionaries from Europe first arrived in Japan in 1549, and simply informed them. Unquestionably, Japan had a recognisable civilisation for many centuries before then (with writing, legal code, state beauraucracy, literature, art, music, religious rituals, and non-scientific technology, non-scientific medicine, non-scientific astronomy, non-scientific logic, non-scientific arithmetic, non-scientific history), but it was a non-scientific (ie pre-modern or even primitive) civilisation.
Plainly, the Japanese never discovered science by themselves, because science is (by definition) difficult. In fact no other civilisation, except uniquely the Hellenic, discovered science. Science was discovered once, in the lands in and around the Aegean sea, the original ancient lands of Hellas, in the sixth century BC, and gradually spread from there. This is not to say that all the people inhabiting these ancient lands of Hellas from the sixth century BC possessed the scientific frame of mind; no, only a certain section of a small priveleged (but for a few centuries influential) minority of the intellectual community.
Science began with the prodigious recognition that the direct sense-impressions may sometimes be illusory. In other words, the earliest scientific discovery is the historic realisation that the reality is not necessarily the phenomenon (=appearance). The first significant scientific theory is the (related) propositions that the Earth is spherical and that the Sun and Moon and all the stars are (not mere lights in the sky but instead) large spherical material bodies like the Earth.
To repeat, the best possible one-sentence definition of science is this: Science is the endeavour to discover the non-obvious truths - of both nature and society. Naturally, the truth is the most important thing one can know. In the thick smoke of the suffocating (mis-)information overload, free expression ensures that unpopular truths may be communicated, debated, and better evaluated. However, without the correct understanding of the fundamental concept "truth", everything looses meaning.
Truth must be unique, objective (= inter-subjective), unchangeable, invariable, theory-free, ideology-transcendent, universal, eternal, ultimate, absolute; and also in principle (but perhaps difficult in practice) discoverable, accessible, attainable, knowable, comprehensible, verifiable, effable, and communicable. Any use of the term "truth" which does not satisfy one or more of the above defining features is fatally flawed, and is bound to lead, sooner or later, to "anything goes" - as indeed it has. The (post-)modernist and "politically correct" idea of "truth" - subjective, relative, parochial, ephemeral, transient, theory-laden, ideology-dependent, falsifiable, unprovable, changeable, variable, surreal; as well as the traditional religious idea of "truth" - untestable, unknowable, incomprehensible, ineffable, transcendental, other-worldly; (or a confused mixture of the two - e.g. Popperism;) are of course meaningless, incoherent, untenable, and, needless to say, untrue.
Proven truths entail rational certaintism and dogmatism. Thus the valid proposition "healthy degree of scepticism" must be complemented by the equally valid - and equally indispensable - proposition "healthy degree of dogmatism".
To be sure, the rejection and demonisation of certainty by the (un-)scientific anti-certaintists generated a pathological public dogma-phobia pandemic among the misnamed "thinking" classes, in addition to the enormous intellectual vacuum. Predictably, the various dogmatic so-called "fundamentalist" religions gratefully stepped in to fill this gigantic intellectual gap with their transcendental metaphysical "certainties", to the huge detriment of society at large.
NEW DARK AGE
The (post-)modernist revolution succeeded many more decades ago than universally recognised in replacing: the concept of permanent truth with the transient paradigm of (transient) paradigm; "healthy dogmatism" with "unhealthy (and invariably bogus) humilitism"; not only in the social sciences but also - and much earlier - in the physical sciences. This ushered the twentieth century culture into a new Dark Age.
The medieval Dark Age was forcibly decreed by the Roman Emperors. Mysteriously, the (post-)modern Dark Age came about in the ostensibly free and tolerant culture of our Europe and America. Arguably, this is the greatest intellectual tragedy in history. (Burning question (i): Why did the obscurantist (post-)modernist revolution occur - and succeed so spectacularly?)
THE INDISPENSABILITY OF TRUTH
Any "paradigm" that appears merely to work and does not claim to be (at least an approximation to) a truth of nature is a SantaClaus-type infantile theory and cannot legitimately claim to be scientific. For sound scientific practice in general, the words "truth" and "reality" are indispensable. Moreover, any non-accidental advancement (both theoretical and practical) in every scientific field is heavily predicated on knowing and using correctly a theory that is close to the truth. In fact the closer the practised theory is to the truth, the greater the probability of advancement. In genuine science, the "but-the-theory-works" theory of knowledge does not really work. In the final analysis, at best it is an infintile theory; and as I explained above there is a worse evaluation.
All those who value the artificial comforts of our technological civilisation (and who also want to know whom to be thankful to for this material opulence) have got to really understand all these challenging points. Otherwise, they will neglect the true heroes and instead honour the impostors, as the vast majority of people ignorantly and injustly do.
The (post-)modern confusion perfectly suits the corrupt establishments as well as all the power-seeking individuals and groups. Another noteworthy concept that was rendered meaningless by (post-)modernity is "justice". Injustice (either to an individual or a group) is perpetrated by the powerful to the powerless. The correction of injustices is heavily predicated on discovering and making known the usually suppressed underlying truths. Curiously, the most enthusiastic embracers of (post-)modernist nonsense have been the self-proclaimed political "progressives" who declare the correction of social injustices to be their prime concern. These same people also expelled forcibly the term "correctness" from its natural home in the sciences and relocated it in politics. Thus emerged the ugly term "Political Correctness" (PC). Sadly, many of these phoney progressives sank even deeper in the (post-)modern mire: they asserted that the concept "objective truth" is a pernicious device invented by the powerful (white European heterosexual male) specifically to despoil the environment and exploit and oppress the weak (women, minorities, third world).
Most people believe that PC is merely about a language code designed so as to not offend the feelings of vulnerable groups. No, it is a fundamental issue of substance. I know because I have been the victim of ruthless PC suppression since 1977 - and I have ample proof.
The rejection (or subversion) of absolute truth I call the Philosophical Mother of all PCs, from which all lesser PCs are (epistemologically) derived. Burning question (ii) (which is a re-phrasing of Burning question (i)): What is the Historical Mother of all PCs, from which all temporally subsequent PCs followed?
I discovered the correct answers to these "burning questions" in 1977. In the oppressive and suffocating atmosphere of the benighted (post-)modern Dark Age culture, however, the PC thought-police had already ensured that my answers were completely unacceptable to virtually the entire intellectual community (and not merely to one or other section of it, or only to the "establishment"), while the concept "truth" itself was very nearly so.
Index OF Censorship
Significantly, the keynote article "The uses and abuses of science" by Colin Tudge in the "Big Science & little white lies" special issue of Index on Censorship (No. 3, July/August 1999) prescribes humilitism (with an air of arrogance of course that would beat any avowed dogmatist), and generally promotes a (post-)modern version of science. Any hint that these ideas have ever been criticised is completely absent. In other words, the special issue on science of Index on Censorship censored the fatal criticism of the establishment viewpoint on the nature of science.
In the (post-)modern world, an infinite variety of daft ideas get publicised but (despite the standard rhetoric of freedom and tolerance) what I argue are the correct ideas about the most fundamental principles of our culture have remained banned for many decades. In fact the arguments refuting both the Philosophical Mother and the Historical Mother of all PCs (from which all temporally subsequent PCs followed) have been and still are the victims of the longest running (and continuing) act of suppression in any field. Their Index of Censorship (IofC) or Censorship Quotient (CQ) is practically infinite.
Naturally, the identification, explication, and elucidation of the Historical Mother of all PCs (from which all temporally subsequent PCs followed) is too big an issue to fit in the permitted space, so it will have to be dealt with as a separate Challenging Viewpoint article.