Philosophy of Science and the War Against the Western Enlightenment
The coming of the western enlightenment and the subsequent modernity that it birthed has been the biggest ontological shift in human understanding since the birth of God and Christianity.
It is this ontological shift that has given the western world its dominance. The west is dominant because of the way in which it acquires knowledge and its understanding of what knowledge is. In philosophy, discussions around knowledge and how it is acquired are called epistemological. Epistemological discussions mostly take place in the philosophy of science, where philosophers discuss the methodologies and practice behind systems of knowledge.
It is the superior epistemology of the western world that has shaped the modern world and led to some of the world’s greatest discoveries. It is this superior epistemology that has led the western world to a position of dominance over Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
At the point where the western enlightenment took off, the western world was able to make a giant leap in thought that gave them a better understanding of how the earth and nature operates and the knowledge to produce productive machinery that could mass produce goods with minimal labour.
With the coming of the enlightenment came a commitment to rationality and truth and an aim to do away with the mythological thinking that had existed amongst humankind for millennia. The leaders of the western enlightenment mounted a great challenge against the power of Catholicism and Islam, using the rationality of the philosophical tradition and the empiricism of science, the leaders of the western enlightenment were able to transform the way that we think about the world but although the western enlightenment consciousness has ploughed on and transformed the way that people experience life, the remnants of past mythological thinking lingers on and continues to hamper the cognitive abilities of many citizens in western nations.
Whilst the Church may not be the popular institution that it was, there are still many in America, both black and white, who strongly believe the truth of the biblical word. Where the Church has been replaced; often it has been substituted by other myths such psychoanalysis and historicism or pop psychology or one of the many assortment of conspiracy theories on offer.
Amongst the African-American population of America, there has been a history of movements and organisations that combine vast arrays of myths into systems of knowledge. This has been the case with Afrocentricity, the Church and other forms of black supremacist literature and movements. At the heart of Afrocentricity lies a rejection of Eurocentricity; its associated enlightenment consciousness, its methods and its accumulated body of knowledge and thinking. The African-American Church still teaches creationism and though dwindling in popularity, still holds the title of the central African-American communal institution.
The psychological comfort that one can garner from the myths of the Church cannot substitute the power of a mind rooted in philosophy and science and their desire for rational, logical explanations. Whilst the Church can be a psychological comfort, it can also create a sense of cognitive dissonance within individuals when confronted with the modern world. When your beliefs clash with the realities of modern medicine, you are putting yourself in danger. Being confronted with realities that do not fit your beliefs can lead to mental health issues. The certainty that is derived from mythology can lead to extremism and serious psychological injuries such as schizophrenia.
Rationality and empiricism are not just a way towards acquiring knowledge but also a way of protecting your mental health from irrational thoughts that can damage you and others. The quiet rationality of philosophy and science are the greatest way to protect your mental health from the irrational thoughts of cults and charlatans and emotional manipulators.
In poor black neighbourhoods there is a strong sense that the western enlightenment consciousness is missing and the communities and neighbourhoods are the worse for it.
Raised into great systems of myth about the whiteness or blackness of God, the superiority of the black man, the truth value of the Bible and an assortment of conspiracy theories that draw inspiration from numerous different cults that have concocted myths and promoted mythological thinking as knowledge, many African-Americans are lost at sea swimming through an ocean of myths and living in an irrational psychological world.
Much of this indoctrination has been done by people with minimal schooling, teaching other people of minimal or bad schooling, who together create a circle of irrationality that is difficult to break through.
There are those, in the academic social sciences, that take a more sophisticated approach to undermining the western enlightenment consciousness by placing the western enlightenment philosophy and science in the context of paradigm myths.
Following in the footsteps of science historian Thomas Kuhn, in the social sciences, many have adopted the Kuhn model of science arguing that scientific revolutions are nothing but paradigm shifts and shifts in the way that scientists think about things rather than based on concrete evidence. They believe that what many consider to be scientific truths are in fact the outcome of a mob psychology that takes over the scientific community once they have engaged with the accumulated knowledge of the western canon. They argue that until there is a scientific revolution which leads to a paradigm shift, most scientists go along with the accepted scientific story of the time without challenging it. They often point to the case of theoretical physics as proof that the basis of science is theoretical rather than based in empirical and observable evidence.
The argument gains weight because of the popularity of theoretical physicists such as Hawkings who have not been able to test their theories in any empirical or observable way but depend solely on rational and mathematical equations to come to their conclusions. In this specific realm of science there is some kind of mythology at work but it is not the irrationality that is associated with the mythology I have described above.
Much of the arguments about sex and gender are backed up by the ideas of Thomas Kuhn. The argument, taking the inspiration from Kuhn is that the current scientific understanding of male and female sexuality is simply a paradigm. A product of scientific mob psychology. It is believed, that a simple paradigm shift is enough to do away with the accumulated scientific knowledge on the subject. The coming of the innumerable genders and sexualities does not have to be backed up scientific testing because according to Kuhn; science is as much about myth as Christianity
In theoretical physics there are moments that can be called paradigm shifts and the scientific community accept these paradigm shifts with a mob psychology. This is largely done because out of the accumulated knowledge of the western enlightenment consciousness, scientists have been unable to find a better theory without contradicting other theories about other aspects of our universe.
There are many aspects of modern science such as medicine and space exploration that prove that there are truths that have been acquired through the scientific methodology that are empirical and testable and to use such a wide brush as Kuhn, to characterise science on a whole as nothing but a set of paradigm myths does not stand up to objective analysis.
Karl Popper is a leading thinker in the philosophy of science and a champion of the scientific philosophy. He has argued that science develops through a process of conjecture and refutation in reaction to an initial problem. According to Popper, science started in an initial state of ignorance with a problem to solve. Someone created a conjecture -a hypothesis without all the information - about the thing that they were studying without knowing where it would take them. The initial conjecture was then refuted by another scientist or philosopher, who was then refuted by another. Through this accumulative process of conjecture and refutation, with ever more elaborate understandings, the western world was able to hone its knowledge inquiry.
The system of conjecture and refutation means that the accumulated knowledge is always uncertain and open to challenge by those that can refute the scientific status quo with a superior rational argument or more robust testing.
Popper believed that the requirement for scientific truth was falsification. He argued that something was pure knowledge when it was able to be falsified with observable evidence. He argued that theories should be discarded if they are found to be unable to withstand rigorous and appropriate observable, empirical testing. In taking this approach we learn to live with uncertainty. When we don’t know, we accept that we don’t know and carry on theorising until we come to a conclusion that withstands tests. Popper coined a term for those theories that we are unable to falsify, pseudo-science.
Much of the intellectual movements in the African-American community would be considered to be pseudo-science in the philosophy of science.
Many of the doctrines adopted by even more sophisticated mythologizers such as psychoanalysis and historicism would equally be considered pseudo-science to a philosopher of science. For example, it is impossible to test and discover the unconscious, id or the ego as argued by psychoanalysts such as Freud. It is impossible to identify the spirit of history as described by Hegel or Marx as an observable phenomena.
In taking the philosophy of science approach of Popper, the aim is to look upon problems free from ideology and with the most objectivity that can be mustered. It is to be absolutely critical of your own ideas and the ideas of others. It is to ruthlessly root out the contradictions that can be identified within theories so that we can bring ourselves closer to the truth of things.
Although there may be big money in science that can shape research; although there are paradigms in some areas of scientific philosophy such as theoretical physics, the way of the science philosopher is to conduct your enquiries into the truth with the most objectivity and rationality that is possible. Ironically, mirroring that biblical adage, “The truth shall set you free”.
Becoming a philosopher of science, means a commitment to the system of error and elimination as a way to coming upon truth and knowledge. Like Popper, I believe that the philosophy of science holds growth for the individual and the development of our species.
So the question may be posed, what do we do with powerful ideas such as psychoanalysis that would be considered pseudo-science by Popper and most philosophers of science? We can accept them as conjecture on a very complex subject. Both Popper and Kuhn argue that the history of science started in a pre-paradigm state with people asking questions and creating theories and hypotheses out of nothing.
Psychoanalysis seeks to understand something that we are unable to test at this stage but it is a decent attempt to try and understand a very important aspect of our lived experience, the mind. Something that no one is able to locate and observe objectively. It may well be that our psyche is designed the way that Freud believed but until it is testable it will never pass the strict falsification system that philosophy of science is built upon.
It is fine to tentatively accept the structure of the psyche offered by psychoanalysis whilst accepting that it does not hold up to scientific scrutiny and living with the uncertainty of it all. If you embrace the philosophy of science approach, it will help you to think about those things that some would term “folk-philosophy” in more appropriate ways.
Some may argue that my defence of psychoanalysis contradicts my argument and shows a bias towards myths that arise from a Eurocentric context. Perhaps, I am arguing from a Eurocentric bias; this could be the case, subconsciously, but you would never be able to test my subconscious, right? I give psychoanalysis a chance because it is an attempt to start a conversation about the mind and how it works. It is a conjecture in the dark, a guess but as Pooper and Kuhn agree, science and philosophy started as a guessing game.
I would ascribe to the idea that some myths are superior to others and accept that science grew out of myth. It began as a refutation of religious conjecture which has led to the growth in accumulated knowledge that we have today. Beginning with pseudo-science as a scratch in the dark in trying to understand the machinations of the mind is not the same as accepting a pseudo-science to explain the whole of existence or as a way of life or as fact.
Many argue that it is slavery and colonialism that has given the western world its dominance. It is not. It is the methodology and objectivity of their epistemological method that has given them the advantage. Whilst many believed in myths and rooted their knowledge in systems of myth, the western enlightenment consciousness rejected these systems of myth in exchange for rationality and empiricism and went ahead. The deep commitment to truth in the scientific method has been the single most significant shaper of western global leadership and nothing to do with race.
The western enlightenment consciousness, its methodology and epistemology is not racially intrinsic to whites. There are many European Americans that persist in mythological thinking and folk philosophy. Many have been captured by cults and charlatans in the same way as African-Americans. Many are conspiracy theorists, many reject science as mythology or nothing but a paradigm as I have shown.
The struggle for the soul of America and the western world is a struggle between folk philosophers and philosophers of science; between pseudo-science and science, between irrationality and rationality. There is a strong pull towards emotion and ideology that could very well be the undoing of the enlightenment consciousness that has enabled humanity to progress thus far and humanity will be all the worse for it.
Every American, and every citizen of the western world must come to the conclusion that if the western enlightenment consciousness is removed from the earth, the world will slip back into darkness. There are other parts of the world where the western enlightenment consciousness is not the norm; there are organised movements around the world that are driven by pseudo-science and every day imagine ways of wiping the western enlightenment consciousness off the face of the earth because it offers a substantial opposition to the certainty of their world view. We must not let them win.