Science and Ideology

Discussion in 'General Science & Technology' started by scilosopher, Nov 17, 2003.

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  1. scilosopher Registered Senior Member

    At the very essence, religion describes the rules for social organisation and morality. Science principally seeks to understand the order of the universe, which is quite different and the two should not be directly compared. However, although the goal of science is not to defined good and bad or set up social ideologies, any ideology is well advised to be consistent with the constraints of world. Given many religions have lead to large scale social conflict and the fact we live in an age where science is eroding many people's belief in religion I think this is an interesting topic.

    I was just wondering primarily:

    1) What role people saw science having in informing their ideologies? (try to avoid religicizing these answers)

    2) Are there any specific beliefs of yours that come directly from science and are easily expressed? (ie a certain level of forgiveness gives robustness to society and interpersonal relationships)

    I would ask people to avoid debating whether religion is a good or bad thing or the existence of god and the like. Let's try to stick to how science informs our beliefs on how to generate constructive social interaction, morality, etc.
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  3. BigBlueHead Great Tealnoggin! Registered Senior Member

    Avoiding religion as much as possible:

    1) science - both good and bad - has formed part of the social background in which I was brought up. The war of scientific ideologies that has gone on during my lifetime has served to demonstrate to me that knowledge is a flimsy thing at best, and we are forced to divide our knowledge into two large-scale camps - 1) things that we can survey entirely and make sense of within our own minds (like frying an egg, or addition and subtraction), and 2) things that we believe by convention, whether it is because we can't personally verify them or because nobody can. For the former we can judge them by personal observation, which is imperfect but relatively reliable (see Hume on induction). For the latter - well, we usually just have to take someone else at their word. The implication that this has for my understanding of the world is largely that truth is not a fish that you can catch.

    2) Well, a number of my beliefs arise from this.

    First, I believe that anyone who sells you "the truth" is selling you oil made from 100% snakes. This puts me at odds with the greater part of religious types, the greater part of scientific types, and most of the general public. Most people would like to believe that there is a truth that we either already own, or at worst we can eventually find. I believe that with proper study and research, we will always get slightly closer to the truth, but we will never arrive.

    Second, I believe that social conventions, like morality, are a technology, just like violins and crop rotation; we developed them to make our lives better. Morality should be explored, researched and improved upon the same way that we do so with other technologies, because that is how we get to be better people. (I have been accused of being a moral relativist. I sort of am. I believe that there is a best choice in any situation, by any set of criteria. It's finding the criteria, as well as the choice, that makes the technology of morality.)

    Third, I agree very strongly with Ruth Hubbard's assertion that scientific research and study can not be absolutely objective, and in most cases is not even vaguely objective. This is why documentation of your experiment, including your own background of research (and hence, hopefully, some catalogue of your own biases) is vital to the advancement of science. Even the clinicising language that people use in an attempt to be more objective, represents a bias of its own. I'm not splitting hairs here - some good reading on this subject is <a href="">Exploding the Gene Myth</a>. I think Hubbard falls down in the end in her imprecise treatment of gender in the scientific community, but this is still a great read.

    Fourth, I have witnessed that human beings are so obtusely proud of themselves that I hope that we are visited by extraterrestrials just so that people will stop thinking that they're so damn great. I find it particularly sad that the absolute injunctions on all forms of cloning, chimerism and so on have been introduced, because I don't think that "the integrity of the human race" would really be so valuable, even if we were all the same to begin with (which I'm pretty sure we're not).

    Lastly, I do not think that the genetic differences between people are a good enough reason to judge them, because our lack of understanding of our own varying societies makes us unqualified to judge people in an "objective" manner. Again, I cannot stress this enough, when it comes to objective judgement of other people, we totally suck at it... until we learn to actually compensate for our social biases, instead of just pretending to, we should provide all people with equal social and moral status because we are not smart enough to handle any other system.
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  5. scilosopher Registered Senior Member

    BBH ... that wasn't really what I was looking for, a bit closer to philosophy than I intended. Interesting and not completely innapropriate none the less.

    I guess for Q1, I meant to ask whether people's ideologies were built up from scientific ideas from the ground up or whether science forced them to re-evaluate some ideology they got from somewhere else. And some specifics.

    For Q2, I meant the role specific scientific ideas have in shaping ideology. A very simple example is "do unto others" and how that relates to a symmetry relationship between how you treat others being based on how you would want to be treated. This is clearly only true at the very rough level that all people really are the same and quickly breaks down based on personal differences.
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  7. BigBlueHead Great Tealnoggin! Registered Senior Member


    Q1. I believe that our ideology is constructed over the course of our life from the sum of our experiences and certain capacities that we are born with. You can't really get ideology from "somewhere else" because even children with devoutly religious parents don't take on their parents' religious beliefs in whole cloth; they end up fitting them to their own experiences and purposes, which may be quite different.

    Since people are willing (especially when they are young) to accept all forms of knowledge as being equally true for the purpose of learning, usually it is a mistake to refer to someone's "scientific" beliefs as being different from their "religious" beliefs, because the person may treat both as being equally true - thus, religion is not "unscientific" in this sense.

    What makes religion unscientific in the grand scheme of things is that it usually can't be investigated. This is not a fault, however, because then it can't be wrong, or at least can't be proven wrong.

    To sum up, ideology is your own arrangement of what you have learned about the world from other people. The difference between scientific ideology and religious ideology is that the principles behind scientific ideology are (sometimes) testable.

    Q2. Scientific principles usually have a very strong and yet paradoxically tangential effect on ideology. Alfred Binet devised the IQ test with the intent that it be used on individual school classes of children (you know, thirty kids all in the same room) to test their relative intellectual capacities to see which children needed more help. Even when he developed the test he was concerned that IQ would be taken out of context and used as a means to arbitrarily judge people's intelligence against one another. This has proven to be the case, so he was right to be worried; immigration in the US used to give IQ tests in English to people who did not speak or read English, judging them to be mentally deficient when their scores were understandably low.

    The Golden Rule, which you mentioned before, is a simple survey of common sense social interaction, where you try to consider the state of another person's mind as part of the process of dealing with them. The Golden Rule is a little too simple, as you say, since other people might not want from you what you want from them, but again it supplies a starting point from which to develop a more complex sense of the behaviour and thought of others. It is not a particularly scientific principle, but it's still easy to understand so it has great longevity.
  8. cosmictraveler Be kind to yourself always. Valued Senior Member

    BigBlueHead You said......

    "The Golden Rule, which you mentioned before, is a simple survey of common sense social interaction, where you try to consider the state of another person's mind as part of the process of dealing with them. The Golden Rule is a little too simple, as you say, since other people might not want from you what you want from them, but again it supplies a starting point from which to develop a more complex sense of the behaviour and thought of others. It is not a particularly scientific principle, but it's still easy to understand so it has great longevity."

    Very nicely put.
  9. BigBlueHead Great Tealnoggin! Registered Senior Member

    Thanks! I think that the real Golden Rule is more like:

    "When you are going to interact with someone, model that person in your head. For as much effort as you feel is appropriate to apply in your present relationship with that person, try to imagine - or, if possible, ask - what that person would like you to do for them, and if this is a good idea given the present circumstances. In general this would be what you would want them to do for you, but not all people are the same and specific circumstances may be known to them and unknown to you. Try to do the thing you think they would most want, commensurate with the effort that you are willing to provide."

    But this wording is a little hard to remember, and most people can extrapolate it from "Do unto others..." anyway.
  10. scilosopher Registered Senior Member

    Actually I would say how science is taught is quite unscientific. It is largely based on teachers telling you what some text book says is how things work without discussing the experiments that lead to those conclusions. Religion is completely unscientific, though some religious philosophers were at least quite logically consistent in their thinking.

    This is not a completely bad thing as religion doesn't pretend to be science. I actually think there's a lot to be said for religion if it's approached the right way, but I mainly want to discuss the role of science in shaping beliefs. Maybe no one else does.

    The golden rule example was just trying to draw a parallel between scientific concepts of symmetry and a simple moral concept/catch phrase. It was not intended to be a full or terrific example. I was just hoping to get a sketch of how other people had incorporated a scientific perspective into their ideology, without contaminating it with my own ideas. Or having the thread turn into debating what I happen to believe.

    I guess if no one else posts how science has shaped their ideology I might do so to try to get the ball rolling. And not so much the idea of science as an alternative to religion, but specifically what science tells us about how the world works and our place in it. Where we come from, how we relate to the rest of life on this planet, and ideas about where we're going.
  11. Watcher Just another old creaker Registered Senior Member

    Informing or deforming?

    1) What role people saw science having in informing their ideologies?

    I would say that science has played a role in DEforming my ideologies; or rather, that science has gotten in the way of developing "ideologies". Why? Western science requires rational thinking. From the instant we are born into Western culture, we begin the indoctrination to think as scientists. In that process, we forget (or never have a chance to realize) that rationalism is NOT the only framework from which to perceive and experience the world. Science jails conciousness within the lockbox of dualism.

    2) Are there any specific beliefs of yours that come directly from science and are easily expressed?

    If something is logical, it must be good.
    If something can't be quantified, it doesn't matter.
  12. scilosopher Registered Senior Member

    Very interesting post, though I must disagree with much of what you have to say.

    Rational thinking needs to start from a certain set of beliefs or thoughts, so there are many possible starting points for a logic based approach to life.

    Nor given that set of beliefs or ideals does it uniquely define a course of action. Most decisions require integrating and weighting many different factors and possible outcomes and many choices are rational.

    While I would agree that alot of the power of science lies in process of elimination, informing or deforming are for my purposes the same in that they both reflect it's role in shaping your ideals.

    Personally I've reached the conclusion that duality is an illusion, the mind exists in material form and therefore has material effects. They cannot be separated.

    I don't see how science indicates that if something can't be quantified it doesn't matter. Gravity matters just as much to birds as it does to humans who can quantify it. Of course you could argue that birds can feel the pull of gravity and thus they can quantify it. If you mean that, anything people can perceive matters (including using instruments) ... anything we can't isn't something we can discuss in the first place. It isn't that it doesn't matter so much as it's not something science can say anything about as there is an absence of information to work with.

    However emotions, which can't be easily quantified ( and are unavoidably integrated into our perceptions about the world) are not deemed irrelevant by any rational scientist. They are clearly an important part of being a human and the only thing that supply any type importance to consequences of our actions.

    Anything that is a logical course of actions given our beliefs, ideals, feelings, and knowledge should be a good thing. Without non-logical components, something logical isn't really good or bad, it's just logical.
  13. Canute Registered Senior Member

    Do you mean 'ideology' or 'world-view'? The term ideology has its roots in the notion of distorted belief-systems that are obstacles to rational thinking. I don't think you mean that, so I'll assume you mean 'world-view'.

    My world-view is derived from science and western philosophy. However, having arrived at it after many years of laymans' research and what I hope was and is honest thinking, it is not (technically) scientific at all, but concurs with the Buddhist world-view. This came as a great surprise to me when I found it out, since at the time I thought that Buddhism was incomprehensible nonsense.

    However one day, talking to someone who was a Buddhist, I discovered that my personal theory, which I thought I had invented based only on scientific evidence and western-philosophic reasoning, was old news, and had been asserted by Buddhists for thousands of years. I was very disappointed at the time.

    So my answer would be that science, its method, theories and philosophy, has played a central role in informing my world-view, which is that the current scientific model of the Universe is ridiculous. I respect its methods, but its ideology prevents it from addressing any fundamental questions, or of resolving the paradoxes that riddle its metaphysical assumptions.

    As far as I can tell, as a layman, all my beliefs either derive from the scientific evidence or are not contradicted by it, but I'm still trying to check whether I'm right about this.

    This is tricky because, being pedantic, if you define science by its method then it's clear that we couldn't get out of bed in the morning without using that method.

    I would say that in the West at least science, or rather what people judge to be the scientific view, (usually erroneously imo) determines the large part of everyone's beliefs, although most people find that science leaves so many questions unanswered that some non-scientific beliefs are required to make sense of anything. I don't see science as having anything at all to say about social interaction or morality.

    Good questions.

    One more interesting issue. You say that "Personally I've reached the conclusion that duality is an illusion, the mind exists in material form and therefore has material effects. They cannot be separated."

    I agree that for logical reasons mind-body dualism doesn't work. I also agree that the world of duality, of appearances, is in a sense an illusion or epiphenomenon. However the idea that mind exists in a material form is itself a dualistic theory, not least because it assumes that there are two things to be explained.

    It also fails on logical grounds according to most people, since it does not deal with the 'exlanatory gap', or explain how I can have a concept of a grand piano in my brain yet not be crushed under it.

    Last edited: Nov 23, 2003
  14. scilosopher Registered Senior Member

    It's always difficult to deal with subtle ideas as words do mean different things to different people. My concept of ideology is a mix of both world view and belief system, which is consistent with most dictionary definitions. I would agree that science more directly informs one's worldview, but posit that one's world view shapes one's other beliefs so separating the two is as artificial as separating mind and body.

    As I stated earlier, I do not believe that science or rationality can uniquely specify a certain way of thinking, it would require an infinite data set to do so and that is clearly not possible for a human (indeed even if it was to some being there would unavoidably be errors in accessing and contemplating it without infinite energy for purely thermodynamic reasons). Therefore, I would agree that science, especially at our current level of understanding, leaves open many different perspectives that are consistent with science.

    I would also agree that scientists tend to avoid making assertions about what science might mean for social interaction. That is a nonscientific act and likely to get a scientist in trouble with funding agencies and colleagues so usually not done in a public forum. However, science has much to say in terms of contextualizing society and social interactions. One of the things that drew me to biology is that evolution and biology put humankind and society in a particularly appropriate and interesting context.

    Therefore I think it is a personal effort that one must undergo to develop an ideology from science. I think it is quite unfortunate that most people do understand science so poorly and that it is not taught better as it does often inform people's perspectives incorrectly through misinterpretation.

    I'd be quite curious to hear about your buddhist like belief system. That is exactly what I was hoping to hear about on this thread and would appreciate some specifics. I too have noted some similarities of my beliefs to buddhism, but have not made the time to understand the buddhist religion. Translations of subtle ideas are particularly confounding.
  15. Canute Registered Senior Member

    This isn't an important issue but I don't really agree with you here. 'Paradigm' or 'episteme' is what I mean by world-view. In my view it is these that give rise to ideologies and thus to beliefs, in that order. I'm not suggesting that this is the right way to form beliefs, quite the opposite in fact, but I suspect that many people base their beliefs on their ideologies, often missing the fact that their ideology contradicts their paradigm. Still, I know what you mean.
    I don't know. I don't see why it should require an infinite data set to think rationally. (I certainly hope it doesn't anyway). Are you thinking that we have to know everything in order to be rational? I wouldn't agree with that. I think we just need to simplify things to the point where we can understand them properly.

    There is a problem with defining rationality, but I'm going to make my mind up as I go on that, there doesn't seem to be any other choice.

    I've only managed to find one, but then I don't find the idea of a Creator God very rational, which rules most of them out.

    Although I agree that science has nothing to say about lifestyle it does tend to rule out lifestyles that are follow only from beliefs that contradict science, (ritual human sacrifice now seems rather ridiculous for instance). I also agree that despite the silence of science on lifestyle issues most people take a view of science that strongly affects their lifestyle, and agree that it's interesting to look at how it happens, (and how we might be able to stop it happening). Materialism is a good example. A common ideology thought to be based on science that drastically affects social evolution while remaining a counterintuitive hypothesis.

    In speaking of their world-view a materialist will readily admit that materialism is not proved and may, if one is strictly logical, be false. But their ideological belief is that it is true, but that all we need is a bigger data-set to prove it. Imho this is not a rational way to link ones knowledge with ones ideology, but it seems a common practice. I see your questions as directly concerned with this issue.

    Agreed, although we may disagree about what should be taught.

    Confounding is hardly the word. Buddhist writings are completely incomprehensible until you begin to understand them, if you see what I mean.

    I don't know the best place to start talking about it. One thing that drew me to it was reaching the conclusion that the only possible explanation of the existence of the cosmos was that it existed inevitably. This suggested some form of infinite self-reference, which in turn suggested that any reductionist account of mind or matter must end in nothingness. 'Nothingness' didn't make scientific sense, so I hypothesised 'emptiness' instead, and then spotted that that was precisely what Buddhists had always asserted.

  16. scilosopher Registered Senior Member

    I didn't say that world-view meant ideology. You said you'd assume I meant world-view and I just confirmed I meant ideology. Wasn't trying to assert anything about what you mean by it ... indeed I even agreed with the order in that I said science more directly informs ones world-view and that shapes one's beliefs.

    I wasn't saying that one needs an infinite data set to think rationally. I meant that even if someone reasoned in a completely rational fashion they would require infinite information to uniquely define what they considered to be the correct course of action.

    I assume you mean there is only one world view you've found consistent with science. Even in the realm of science there are many similar explanations that require larger and larger amounts of data to distinguish. Science is all approximate and therefore only accurate at a given resolution, therefore there are multiple world views consistent with the areas science covers and many more when one includes areas that haven't even been brought into the scientific domain.

    As each world-view can be consistent with multiple social systems for various purposes, the lack of uniqueness is even greater (though I realize you were speaking in regards to world views). Therefore there is a good deal of personal choice or style one can bring to bear on what system one wants to follow even if they want to remain completely rational.

    I don't think materialism is true or not true. Science only says how the universe behaves. What people want from society is somewhat independent of what is possible, although you can only get what's possible.

    As far as your comments on Buddhism, I kind of know what you mean about only understanding once you get it, but the rest is incomprehensible.
  17. Canute Registered Senior Member

    Well ok, but you said that "My concept of ideology is a mix of both world view and belief system". I don't happen to agree.

    You say here that "I don't think materialism is true or not true". Do you really mean that?

    What I was saying about the existence of the Universe is that either there was a 'first cause' or it is inevitable. I can't see a third choice, and I don't think a 'first cause' is a logical idea. although I know some do.
  18. scilosopher Registered Senior Member

    What did you mean by materialism? I looked it up and found 2 apparently relevant definitions:

    1. The theory that physical matter is the only reality and that everything, including thought, feeling, mind, and will, can be explained in terms of matter and physical phenomena.

    2. The theory or attitude that physical well-being and worldly possessions constitute the greatest good and highest value in life.

    I was thinking 2, which isn't true or false generally. If you meant 1, then I agree it could be either true or false. Looking back at your post it seems you meant 1, though in my experience most people mean 2 in common dialogue (just to explain why I thought you meant that. In this context 1 was probably the more reasonable to assume).

    I wasn't really looking to discuss an explanation of the fact things exist, but rather one of what one believes based on what exists. Personally I've never come up with anything regarding existence that is very convincing. It is something too distant from what we know and much less relevant and interesting than how to deal with the nature of what obviously does exist.
  19. Canute Registered Senior Member

    Good point. I sort of meant both, but I wasn't clear. I meant that materialism (1) is a prevalent scientific opinion but is not 'the scientific view' since it is not entailed by the evidence. But despite this people take it as being the scientific view for it tends to be presented as such. They therefore tend to form their ideologies based on it, the effect being materialism (2).

    Like you I find the link between science and world-view interesting. I was trying to say that science should help form our world-view, but that we should be careful to stick to known science and avoid including scientific speculation.

    I didn't mean to muddle the issue by talking about existence. But any world-view must make metaphysical assertions (as does materialism 1) and thus must deal with metaphysical issues if it to be anything other than ad hoc. Therefore the same applies to ideologies.

    It can be argued that the evidence tells us a lot about existence, but I agree with you that the objective evidence alone doesn't settle the big questions.
  20. scilosopher Registered Senior Member

    That's interesting because I would say I believe 1, but not 2 at all. In fact the way in which information, feelings, emotions, life, etc. arise from matter provide terrific direction in overcoming shallow materialistic perspectives and empty lives full of possessions yet devoid of anything significant.

    I'm not sure if it's another semantic confusion, but I strongly disagree with removing speculation from forming our world-view. The science of complex systems is not well worked out, but the most relevant to society and life. However what is known allows one to make many educated guesses about what would work well without having strong experimental or mathematical scientific backing, but only vague theoretical analogies that must be considered speculative.

    If all one has is a best guess or a personal preference and not scientifically proven theories regarding a phenomenon or perspective, that doesn't mean the phenomenon doesn't exist or that one cannot have a perspective on that topic. In fact a big part of science is formulating perspectives on things that aren't understood to make testable hypotheses.

    In the social arena there is the fact that one cannot do controlled experiments for obvious reasons. However all society is a form of controlled experiment we all (have little choice but to) choose to engage in. To have this experiment yield the best results we must try to move things in a direction that is likely to be better than it is today.
  21. Canute Registered Senior Member

    I agree that it's difficult to remove speculation from one's world-view, but I believe that it can be done, and Buddhists assert that it should be done at all costs.

    You say that you believe in (metaphysical) materialism despite the fact that it isn't proved. What leads you to believe this, or is it an intuition?
  22. scilosopher Registered Senior Member

    Computers manipulate information in a purely material fashion - clearly no other explanation is necessary. It is clear nuerons are quite complicated and difficult to understand even as independent entities, let alone as highly complicated networks, but it is much more parsimonius to believe that their function is rooted in matter than any alternative.

    There is seminal work by people such as Bill Bialek that demonstrate the information processing attributes of nuerons are understandable in computational/information theory terms. Much is even explained by the Hodgkin-Huxley mathematical model of the nueron, which is quite comprehensible in molecular terms given recent understaning of the molecular mechanisms of ion-channels. Not to mention that transcription factor networks in bacteria can clearly do quite complex computational operations and nuerons aren't even necessary to have information processing capacity.

    So then the only issue is one of pain/pleasure and more complex emotions. Pain typically comes out of conflict or dissonance between what we want and the world. It is somewhat surprising just how vivid pain can be if it's only information, but I'd say the same thing about the color blue which is more clearly an internal representation of materially quite comprehensible state.

    In the end all science really has is parsimony to drive choice, you pick the simplest explanation possible to match the data. A physical interpretation of information is actually strongly suggested by information theory and statistical mechanics. It all comes down to combinatoric states of systems and encoding. For something ordered like life to continue to exist it must learn to represent the world around it, a description of itself, and how to extract matter and energy from the world around it to maintain that description of itself. (evolution is a cute side effect of the fact that many successful ways of doing so are actually small variants of eachother, so mistakes lead to chains and transformations of such self-replicating organized entities)
  23. Canute Registered Senior Member

    I feel we should accept that science has no evidence on this matter with which we can decide. The debates continues.

    What makes you say that "it is much more parsimonius to believe that their function is rooted in matter than any alternative"?
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