Space, time, & so forth

Nothing, or very little, gives me quite so much pleasure as seeing the world come round to my uneducated views. For the truth is, I have no advanced degree in physics — or “mechanics” as I’m still inclined to call it. This would include astro-mechanics, and mechanical cosmology. I once hung out with some self-styled particle physicists, who could talk circles around me, and then do the math. The experience left me more, not less, sceptical of their credentials. For the truth was, they could not coherently explain the premisses underlying their “science”; nor the empirical evidence for their claims. This, I concluded, was because they were incapable of sustained reason; and there was none; respectively.

But others are easily impressed, to a point. And even I would leave these perfessers to speculate, about “multiverses” and such, on their own dime. As with the general public, and the more recent (slightly empirical but misleading) case of climate theory, it is all very well until they cost us money. At that point, we reserve the right to ignorantly cut them off; and if they get feisty about it, to employ such words as “fraud.”

“Advanced” mechanics cost us billions in tax money; “advanced” climate modelling (scare quotes because the conclusions are predetermined) will very likely cost us trillions by the time the game is up. We are not discussing small amounts here.

But worse, according to me, is the destruction of the Western, civilized tradition of scientific research. It began with “saving the appearances,” of natural phenomena, and has degenerated to “saving the non-appearances.” Theory, as an aid to understanding, has been reversed. Now it becomes the end in itself, and the basis of most scientific teaching. We’re all Nominalists today, and the consequences spread well beyond the labcoat sanatoria.

Politics, for instance, if they were ever, are no longer evidence-based. To some degree I think they were in the second-last century. The aristocratic statesmen of the Victorian age, like their mechanists, had some curiosity about the consequences of their policies. Did they, for instance, “work” in delivering the intentions behind them. With socialism, in its countless forms, this question ceased to be interesting. There was pure theory, or ideology, and the point became to make reality conform.

Whether the politics led to the science, or the science to the politics, is to my mind a debatable question. More likely, Nominalist attitudes led to both, and have been travelling the road to Hell for many centuries now. They originated, as most things currently around us, in mediaeval times, and the very invention of “modernity” was their breathtaking achievement.

It is true that “technology” requires empirical observation. But that didn’t begin with the stripping of the altars. Material improvements have been a feature of growth over time in all civilizations, mediaeval as well as Chinese. Men, equipped by God with certain analytical skills, have always been eager to fix things. It is not our exclusive desire, and there will always be resistance from conservative tendencies, even within the most innovative types, but the flukish nature of experimental discovery — and of its application — is attested through all the history I have read. It is a wild card. It does not depend on “theory,” but on observation.

“There is no agreed criterion to distinguish science from pseudoscience,” I read this morning (here), “or just plain bullshit, opening the door to all manner of metaphysics masquerading as science. This is ‘post-empirical’ science, where truth no longer matters, and it is potentially very dangerous.”

How refreshing that someone who is educated gets that. I disagree on only two points. The first is that this is not new, but has a long history. The second is that “bullshit” (not lying, rather, not caring what is true) is not “potentially dangerous.” It is invariably so.