Is Youth the Victim of the Politicizing of Science?
The belief in ‘science’ has, over recent generations, become tantamount to ‘religious belief’ with ‘political overtones’. The problem is, ‘science’ as it is popularly understood and acted on, gives understanding that is ‘over-simplistic’ relative to the ‘real world dynamic’ of our actual experience. That is, what we scientifically ‘understand’ and ‘believe to be true’ does not reconcile with our real-world experience. The simple causal ‘brand’ of ‘climate science’ is a case in point.
[As in politics, we blame variance that unfolds in the present on alleged causal agents acting in the immediate past, though it is more realistic to acknowledge that what unfolds in the present derives from stress/tensions that have accrued over the remote past. Prior to revolutions, the angry citizens that ‘lose it’ and attack those in power are identified as the causal mechanisms responsible for the ‘disturbance/variance’ although what unfolds in the present is often the ‘unloading’ of tensions (potential energy stored in spatial relations) accrued in the remote past. ].
Much has been written by philosophers of science about this creeping social problem (over-simplified scientific models of ‘reality’ confusedly mistaken for ‘reality’) but little of this makes it to the ‘popular press’.
Here’s an example which is at the core of the polarized debate on ‘climate science’.
Mathematical physics, which much popular scientific thinking borrows from, looks for solutions to the simplified problem wherein the present depends only on the immediate past. This allows the scientific ‘solution’ to this ‘simplification’ of the actual dynamic phenomena to be in the form of a ‘differential equation’ wherein, if we know the ‘initial conditions’ of the system at some point, we can predict its future condition.
The ‘value of science’ is often thought of in the limited sense of its ability to predict ‘what is going to happen’ at a future ‘time’;
“Science owes its success to its ability to predict natural phenomena thus allowing man a degree of control over his surroundings” -.R.S. Shaw
In the case of ‘climate science’ some backers of ‘anthropogenic global warming’ have bluntly said; ‘if we assume that warming is celestially-forced, then there is no hope (if the earth continued to warm), so we might as well assume that the warming is locally forced, and is caused by man. This, we can control.”
Recall, as just mentioned, that mathematical physics ‘simplifies the actual dynamic phenomena’ in such a way that we can extract solutions that allow ‘prediction’ (and thus the potential for control) from the ‘simplified reality’. This has been the popular orientation of mainstream science; i.e. (step 1) simplify the dynamic phenomenon or ‘problem’, (step 2) solve the ‘simplified reality’ so that we come up with ‘solutions’ that allow us to predict the future ‘condition’ of the system from ‘initial conditions’.
Meanwhile, we are prone to forget that the solutions we come up with are not ‘explanations’ of the ‘real phenomena’ we are investigating, but are ‘explanations’ of the reduced and simplified ‘pseudo-reality’ that we have conveniently substituted for the raw reality of our experience.
In the ‘raw reality’, dynamic phenomena are in general ‘nonlinear’ and ‘non-predictable’, but we are now ‘addicted’ to ‘predictable solutions’ because we would like to control natural phenomena, so we keep looking for understanding in a form that allows prediction and control, regardless of whether that ‘makes sense’.
“Although the [complex] systems themselves were found in the nineteenth century, their study was “repressed in the cultural and ideological context of the times.” – Prigogine and Stengers
“To the extent that such models [models that posit central governing elements] also lend themselves more readily to the kinds of mathematics that have been developed, we need further to ask. What accounts for the kinds of mathematics that have been developed? … might it not be that prior commitments (ideological, if you will) influence not only the models that are felt to be satisfying but also the very analytical tools that are developed?” That is, since we know that the choice of scientific and mathematical models influences the evolution of community, … not only in the context of developments made available to the community, … but also with respect to how the benefits and risks of such developments are presented to the public.” – E.F. Keller
We can compare the phenomenon of ‘earthquakes’ and the phenomenon of ‘climate’ as follows;
We accept that earthquakes are not predictable, neither in the timing of their occurrence nor in the magnitude of their energy release. Earthquakes are not as ‘subtle’ as ‘climate’; they do not ‘creep up on you’. If a scientist makes a prediction on the timing and size of an earthquake and it is wrong, it is very publicly embarrassing. In the case of climate, the scientist who makes the prediction will finish his professional career, garlands and medals of honour around his neck and a big pension check in the mail, before the legitimacy or non-legitimacy of his theory can ever be tested.
Could climate be nonlinear like earthquakes, so that shifts in the climate are unpredictable in their timing and magnitude?
There is good reason to believe this is so.
In the case of earthquakes, the simplifying assumption of mathematical physics does not apply; i.e. the present does not depend solely on the immediate past. Space is energy-charged and ‘loads up with potential energy’ like a spring, releasing it at a much later time. Potential energy is stored as ‘stress’ as in the case of the a growing sandpile where sandgrains are being added to the crest. Periodically (or rather ‘aperiodically’), the stress will reach a threshold wherein the stored potentials are quickly and violently transformed into kinetic energy (an ‘avalanche’ or ‘earthquake’ occurs). The actual behaviour, then, does not satisfy the assumption that the present depends only on the immediate past. The present depends on the remote past; i.e. on the ‘loading’ of an elastic space with potential energy. The potential energy storing or ‘spring-loading’ is ‘spatial relation’ (inherently nonlocal rather than local).
In the case of climate, ‘ice’ plays a kind of negative spring-loading role (springs can store energy by either extension or compression). If you had a large tub of water in your living room and one severe winter it froze entirely, and melted continuously, very slowly in the winter and more rapidly in the summer, it would ‘put a downward pressure’ on the temperature of your living space (the temperature would be lower that it otherwise would have been). When it finally melted away fully, the downward pressure on the living space temperature would be lifted and the temperature would quickly take a sudden step upward. Based on just the temperature data and the standard scientific model wherein we assume that the present depends only on the immediate past, we would search for a ‘causal mechanism’ that ‘produced the increase in temperature’.
That is, we would be prone to thinking of the abrupt stepwise increase in the temperature as a ‘departure from the norm’ due to something that just happened, but this ‘event’ in the present derived from what went on in the remote past.
That is, it is our tendency to think in terms of a ‘normal state’ and ‘departures from the norm’, and from there to look for a ‘causal mechanism’ in the present that is responsible for the ‘departure from the norm’. If we also had a tub of carbonated water in the living room, we might find that there was a correlation between the rise in temperature and the rise in CO2 in the air.
Even though we should not have been looking for a ‘cause in the present’ for the rise in temperature (since it was coming from the discharging of the spring-loading of space that had occurred in the remote past), we would look for present cause anyhow, because that is our preferred model which allows us to extract solutions that allow prediction and thus the potential for controlling the predictable phenomena (by manipulating the ‘causal mechanisms’). Because the burst of CO2 was there at ‘the scene of the crime’ at ‘the time of the crime’ (when the temperature got knocked up), the circumstantial evidence strongly suggests that the CO2 ‘did it’.
BUT, that is only the case if we hold to the assumption that the present depends only on the immediate past, an assumption of convenience that, by simplifying the real-world phenomena and substituting a less complex pseudo-reality, allows us to extract solutions that we can use to predict future behaviour and which appear to give us the possibility of controlling how the future unfolds.
Why would we not think of climate in the same terms as earthquakes, as a type of dynamic whose variances are unpredictable in magnitude and timing? As has already been mentioned/suggested, we have a cultural bias to ‘science’ that delivers understanding/knowledge in a form that allows ‘prediction’ and ‘control’;
“The metaphor of the world as mechanism [the present depends only on the immediate past], a presupposition that colors much of the pursuit of scientific knowledge, has a social meaning as well. Here is one of the ways in which ‘the connection between what counts as knowledge and the ability to manipulate and control the things known, is culture bound and gender bound.’ (J. Rouse, ‘Knowledge and Power’, 1987). Ideologies legitimating the domination of nature and the domination of specific social groups are connected.” – Stephen H. Kellert, ‘In the Wake of Chaos’
The evidence is, that space is an energy-charging/discharging medium where ‘what we see happening today’, rather than deriving from causal mechanism acting in the immediate past, derives from discharging that which was charged in the remote past.
To insist on identifying and blaming the present variance on causal agency acting in the immediate past constitutes a ‘politicizing’ of science. It recalls Machiavelli’s ‘turbulent river’ metaphor for the unfolding present; i.e.
“fortune is a woman and it is necessary if you wish to master her, to conquer her by force.” -Machiavelli (cited by Carolyn Merchant).
In other writings on this Aboriginal Physics Newsletter site, it is recalled that revolutions manifest this same pattern where tensions build in the society and manifest in many small ‘earthquakes’ of unpredictable magnitude and timing where angry citizens ‘lose it’ and attack those in power. In keeping with Machiavelli’s above remark, it is convenient for those in power to assume that the present disturbance derives from the causal agent acting in the immediate past (the law-breaker) even though the spring-loading of space (spatial-relational tensions) in the remote past is the ‘real’ source of present outburst. In this way, those in power can ‘master her [fortune/the unfolding present], by conquering her by force’.
‘Blaming’ temperature variances on man-made CO2 emissions and greenhouse-gas forcing in general, can thus be seen as ‘the politicizing of science’, a politicizing that force-fits the causal-mechanism model on natural phenomena in order to give us the IMAGINED ability to ‘control the future’ by force and manipulation.
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