Thursday, January 10, 2013

The middle ground?

A few more words about the "middle ground" between classicism and romanticism.

There is indeed a middle ground between reductionist science and romanticism; that is, a synthetic, non-reductionist way of knowing that claims to be science. It is inhabited by the likes of Deepak Chopra, Lyall Watson, and Rupert Sheldrake. What's on offer are grand synthetic theories that pretend to explain the world in a way that "preserves the wealth of living reality" (Luria's phrase). The theories generally borrow vocabulary from classical science – "quantum," "indeterminacy," "resonance," and so on. They are human-centered and easy to understand. They sell books.

Which is not to say that they are not clever. Clever, yes. But not science.

Goethe was exceedingly clever. He tried mightily to create a synthetic science. But you won't find Goethe in science textbooks today. And I'd bet my bottom dollar the textbooks of the future will take no note of Chopra, Watson, Sheldrake, and their like.

Reductionist science is successful because it lends itself to experimental verification. Variables can be isolated. Isolate A and B on the lab bench. Twiddle A; see what happens to B.

Synthetic theories do not lend themselves to experiment. How do you do a meaningful experiment on a system in which everything is connected? We may prefer butterflies flitting in a meadow to a dissected insect on the lab bench, but it's the latter that has led to modern medicine and technology. Reductionism may not be pretty, but it works.