Marching in Circles: Faustian Thinking and the Myth of Science

by Edward Curtin

Photograph source: AP

In our society those who have best knowledge of what is happening are also those who are furthest from seeing the world as it is. In general, the greater the understanding, the greater the delusion: the more intelligent, the less sane.” George Orwell, 1984

This has inspired me to new heights, to wage war against these forces [‘the unfruitful ocean’] and subdue them.” Faust from Goethe’s Faust

The recent marches on April 22nd to promote science and to celebrate Earth Day were perhaps well-intentioned, but they were delusional and conducted without any sense of irony. They served power and its propaganda. Obviously science has benefited us in certain ways, but it has become untethered from any sense of moral limits in its embrace of instrumental rationality and its unending efforts to sabotage faith in human freedom by rationally “proving” its illogical deterministic credo. And in doing so it has created and sustained a nightmarish world on the brink of destruction and undermined people’s will to resist this death march. Ostensibly rational, it has engendered a spiritual alienation that goes to the roots of the world crisis.
“In short,” says Dostoevsky’s underground man, “one may say anything about the history of the world – anything that might enter the most disordered imagination. The only thing one can’t say is that it’s rational.”
For two of the major problems the world faces – world destruction with nuclear weapons and the poisoning of the earth’s ecology and atmosphere – are the result of the marriage of science and technique that has given birth to the technological “babies” (Little Boy and Fat Man) that were used by the U.S. to massacre hundreds of thousands of Japanese and now threaten to incinerate everyone, and the chemical and toxic inventions that have despoiled the earth, air, and water and continue to kill people worldwide through America’s endless war-making and industrial applications.
The Save-the-Earth-Science marchers failed, for self-serving reasons or ignorance, to see the obvious. But their failure goes even deeper than omitting the links between science, war, and pollution.
In our technopoly, logical thinking has become illogical; cause and effect, means and ends have been inverted. The causes of our problems are touted as the means to end them. These “solutions” are always offered with a straight face, as if they made perfect sense. This is how societies operate when in the grip of myths. In this case, the myths of science, progress, and history. Such myths render the obvious invisible as they create a hopeless inevitability in people who can imagine no alternative and have been convinced that science is the secret to salvation and the means to the things they have learned to desire, including longevity and perhaps “immortality.” And these things have become the means to additional means in an endless loop from which, by definition, ends are absent. As a result, the search for truth, celebrated as a goal of science, is slyly eliminated.
In this comforting yet absurd myth, science is viewed as the “miraculous knight of reason.” John Saul Ralston elaborates:

Science led the way in the battle against the forces of darkness. Discoveries were celebrated as if new territories were won on the road to a place of eternal light where knowledge would reign. And yet these very real advances in the uncovering of nature’s secrets seemed increasingly to create a world which escaped the control of society. New knowledge and new positive powers in the hands of man seemed inevitably to be matched with new inaccessible elites and a new sophistication in the arts of violence and destruction….As for the scientists, the vast majority of whom continue to believe in the inviolability of progress, they still do so with the driven purity of terrorists.

Comforted and paradoxically terrorized by our creations, yet immobilized by our myths, we seem to lack the imaginations to conceive a different approach. So we applaud what seems so “sensible”: marching for science to save the planet. Meaning well becomes a substitute for missing the meaning of our contradictory thinking and the myth that sustains it.
Delude ourselves as we might, the probability of making all possibility impossible is very real. Poised on the edge of nuclear conflagration and environmental collapse, we tell ourselves that reasonable minds will prevail, knowing, if we choose to think at all, that the central experiences of the past century – the mass slaughter of human beings with progressively more “advanced” weapons and ecological destruction as a result of scientific/technological “advances” (we are always advancing in the myth) – were not prevented by such “reasonableness.” In fact, instrumental reason and its perverted logic of efficiency – our Gods – caused them.
We inhabit a nightmare, and reason is insufficient to awaken us. “The madman,” wrote G. K. Chesterton, “is the man who has lost everything except his reason.” This is true even when the reasoning is faulty.
This scientific/technological nightmare is a world where everything has become a means and the ends no longer exist. We are travelling at breakneck speed to nowhere, but as long as long as we keep moving in our “usefulness,” no one seems to notice that we are travelling in circles and getting nowhere.

He’s a real nowhere man
Sitting in his nowhere land
Making all his nowhere plans for nobody
Doesn’t have a point of view
Knows not where he’s going to
Isn’t he a bit like you and me?

I’d say the boys – the Beatles – have a point, wouldn’t you? But what do artists know?
We can’t conceive of our ends since they conjure up nothing, having been swallowed by the means, while the purpose of our lives is reduced to staying alive as long as possible. The Faustian goal has always been immortality, and we have been infected with the fear that death, and therefore life, may be meaningless. The quest for scientific “immortality” is a means to a means without end. It is a symptom of the profound spiritual crisis of the age.
Writing about our twisted logic that has banished anything “useless” or “gratuitous,” – including art, people, and nature – the great French sociologist Jacques Ellul says this about modern science:

Once, knowledge of truth was what mattered, but then after the philosophers came the scientists. They developed their theories, which were then applied, first in order to prove the truth of these theories, and then because of their usefulness. From that point on, science was lost! Technical means gradually came to dominate the search for truth. Science became more and more about the effectiveness of technical means. Science today takes its meaning from technique; it is completely oriented to application. It is in the service of means. It has become a means of perfecting the means. The abstraction ‘science,’ to which we still pay lip service, has replaced the search for truth.

Yes, marching for science is marching for science, but not in the way the demonstrators think. It is marching for a means to a means. Wedded to government support and instantaneously applied to technical applications, science serves no ultimate end but its own existence. Holding signs supporting science as a cure for the planet’s ills that science has created is like taking psychotropic drugs for depression because you were told the “cause” of your depression is a brain abnormality for which no causal scientific evidence exists since there are no definitive empirical lab tests. In the former case the cause becomes the solution; in the latter, the imagined cause is remedied by an imagined solution. In both cases, delusional thinking prevails.
Such inverted logic about cause and effect is the way the myth of science works today. No evidence required. The cause is the solution. The means justifies the means.
It is the same “logic” used to support the materialistic, murderous, and imperialistic American empire. Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, etc. – bomb, invade, kill, destroy – and when those means don’t work, double down on them.
Paul Virilio, the great scholar of dromology (the study of speed), asks:

“Has the prohibition to prohibit – the basic law of scientific progress – become the only law of a lawless globalism?”

His answer: Yes. This prohibition to prohibit informs our science, war-making, rapacious globalization, and capitalist death trip – everything – as we accelerate toward global suicide.
It was Dostoevsky who long ago warned us of the path we were on and the spiritual nihilism that lay at its heart:

That is not all; then, you say, science itself will teach man (though to my mind it’s a superfluous luxury) that he never has really had any caprice or will of his own, and that he himself is something of the nature of a piano-key or the stop of an organ, and that there are, besides, things called the laws of nature; so that everything he does is not done by his willing it, but is done of itself, by the laws of nature. Consequently, we have only to discover these laws of nature, and man will no longer have to answer for his actions and life will become exceedingly easy for him.

But “easy” turned out to be hard, as an uneasiness of profound proportions wed to the spiritual crisis of free will created by science has been dismissed as the rantings of religious fanatics who want to return us to the dark ages. Blinded by the myth of science, we fail to see that the loss of our belief in our own freedom is connected to the instrumental rationality that threatens all life.
Nature and all living creatures, including ourselves, have become our enemies and are rejected as ends in themselves. Everything and everyone is a means. We must bomb, bulldoze, manipulate, drug, control, poison, etc. – all in the service of a diabolical willfulness that brooks no resistance.
American society is nihilistic and the ruling political and intellectual elites are of course the leading nihilists. But this nihilism is widespread because it works at the mythic level. Unable to grasp the circular and repetitive nature of instrumental reason and its propaganda that have resulted in a spiritual/existential crisis that is leading to world destruction, average people fall into a deeper malaise that leads to widespread despair, unhappiness, and hopelessness. Everything becomes a means to a means in a kaleidoscopic death trap.
The question is: how can we break out of this mystification of experience that has resulted in a double-bind that has trapped us?
I thing Goethe hints at a solution in a “warning” that the devil, Mephistopheles, gives to a student in Faust, and which Faust failed to heed:

Who would study and describe the living, starts
By driving the spirits out of the parts:
In the palm of his hand he holds all the sections,
Lacks nothing, except the spirit’s connection.

But are we capable of taking such a hint? Or have we passed a point of no return?
I will take up this hint in a sequel to this article, and explore the possibility of a path out of the seeming impossibility of escaping the cul-de-sac of our spiritually disinherited current condition.

Edward Curtin is a writer whose work has appeared widely. He teaches sociology at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. His website is http://edwardcurtin.com/

Edward Curtin teaches sociology at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. His writing on varied topics has appeared widely over many years. He writes as a public intellectual for the general public, not as a specialist for a narrow readership. He believes a non-committal sociology is an impossibility and therefore sees all his work as an effort to enhance human freedom through understanding. His website is edwardcurtin.com

Filed under: Essays, featured, Philosophy & Abstract Thoughts

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Edward Curtin teaches sociology at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. His writing on varied topics has appeared widely over many years. He writes as a public intellectual for the general public, not as a specialist for a narrow readership. He believes a non-committal sociology is an impossibility and therefore sees all his work as an effort to enhance human freedom through understanding. His website is edwardcurtin.com

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Sorry, Not Buying It
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Sorry, Not Buying It

The author fails to diagnose the problem – capitalism-imperialism – and instead blames one of the tools – science – wielded by the problem for the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He reduces it to “technology and technique”, an oddly reductionist view from someone who criticizes science for being overly reductionist. If only he’d been more SCIENTIFIC, his argument could have been more of what he decries science for not being enough of: holistic. He could then have broaden the causal chain to include US imperialism. But instead, there’s no mention even of capitalism. To him, science is “the”… Read more »

BigB
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BigB

Capitalism-Imperialism is also but an effect – of who or what we perceive ourselves to be. The fundamental building block of our ideologies – our socio-cultural-economic organisation – is the human mind. I suggest that if our systems and societies are flawed (which is undeniable) at the macro-social level – it is but a reflection and inevitable consequence of our misperception of who we are at the micro-social or personal level. These act as mutually self-reinforcing cause and effect, one cyclically conditioning the other. So long as we experience ourselves as separate individualised material mind-body constructs – societies will continue… Read more »

Sorry, Not Buying It
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Sorry, Not Buying It

Sorry, but you’re just waffling aimlessly. You provide no strategy for the international working class to get to what you’re talking about. And this claim is pulled virtually out of thin air: “So long as we experience ourselves as separate individualised material mind-body constructs – societies will continue to fail.” You’ve been reading too much Deepak Chopra. Most people actually have dualist misconceptions about the mind-body “problem”. You seem to be confusing philosophical materialism with the commodification of human relations. There’s no necessary relation between the two. Even though you acknowledge the feedback loop between the mind and the “macro-level”,… Read more »

BigB
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BigB

The easiest way to contrast our POVs: and the question you manage not to answer is – will the coming revolution benefit the entirety of the global population and treat us all ethically and equally? Will the classless society be pan-global or not? If not, then revolutionary Marxism is not that revolutionary; based on a category error (aka – the misconception of our true nature) and just another reactionary ideology. Or, put another way, just a different way of exploiting the global commons and distributing the communal global wealth among those – some of whom must necessarily be deemed more… Read more »

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Sorry, Not Buying It

“The mind and its environment are mutually arising and co-dependant in nature, thus no separateness can occur. No environment, no mind – and vice-versa.” It’s one thing to say that the mind and the environment constructed by human beings – their machines, their social relations, their infrastructure and so on – are co-dependent. It’s an entirely different thing to say that the physical world per se is dependent upon the mind. The former is a tenet of historical materialism; the latter is the use of the former to smuggle in idealist gobbledygook. “So the crux of our differing POVs is… Read more »

Sorry, Not Buying it
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Sorry, Not Buying it

“As to some specifics: actually, I have no concept of mind,” Okay, so you just want to waffle, as when you laim that: “as the continual attempt to categorise the mind is at the very fundament of the crisis of humanity, IMHO. This renders the materialist/immaterialist debate moot.” No, that doesn’t follow at all. Trying to categorize something and then noting the negative effects of that attempt doesn’t at all render that categorization “moot”. One might think that, if anything, attempting to categorize the mind PROPERLY would at least ameliorate some of the ills that you cite, but apparently the… Read more »

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Sorry, Not Buying it

“The easiest way to contrast our POVs: and the question you manage not to answer is – will the coming revolution benefit the entirety of the global population and treat us all ethically and equally?” This question s quite vacuous, and is again indicative of your bourgeois outlook on things. You talk about “the entirety of the population” – as though social classes didn’t exist and as though everyone on Earth had the same interests. This is the bourgeois narrative, which seeks to pull the wool over the eyes of the masses by blurring class distinctions and obscuring the class… Read more »

mog
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Sobering and discomfortingly honest BigB.
Some on the Left talk of a new era of ‘Fully Automated Luxury Communism’. I am more pursuaded that we are witnessing the death of the religion of progress.
How will the devotees cope when they realise that all the promises were unable to be kept? How can we step down from this ridiculous hubris with grace and honor, and not just blow the whole thing to shit?

Sorry, Not Buying It
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Sorry, Not Buying It

“Some on the Left talk of a new era of ‘Fully Automated Luxury Communism’.”
I hope you’re not mistaking this for serious revolutionary Marxism? Because if you’re not, why bring it up in the first place?

BigB
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BigB

I wish I knew, I can only offer a trite non-answer: by owning less, acquiring less and being less – at least in the terms the world accepts. But a few hundred thousand denying themselves the luxuries of the developed world won’t alter much – probably as much as three quarters of the worlds population don’t even qualify for the corporate rollercoaster – collectively consuming virtually nothing – in most cases almost literally. It is sad and depressing – in the majority of places this world is still so beautiful – and should have been beautiful and bountiful for all.… Read more »

mog
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I was glad to have read this piece. For me the issue is best framed within the epistemological debates about what constitutes ‘knowledge’. Science is not going away. What needs to be challenged with the utmost urgency are the philosophical underpinings of the ‘scientific world view’ : i.e. Materialism. The scientific establishment (bolted into the capitalist world system) has built a collosal edifice upon first principles, that, when thought through carefully, are the most extreme form of superstition ever devised by humans. Our culture has objectified our very selves and at the same time presupposes the whole physical universe. Most… Read more »

Norman Pilon
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Mog, if you could be so kind, see my reply to Mr. Curtin. Not that you are under any obligation, of course. But I’m genuinely not sure I understand how either you or Edward intend the term “materialism” and, therefore, the sense in which the two of you understand “science” to be in trouble or troubling.

mog
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I intend the word ‘materialism’ as a metaphysical position, one that states that everything is material, that all phenomenon – including our consciousness, are material in their fundamental nature. It insists that there is ‘real world’ of matter that exists entirely independently of our perception of it. I think it is worth clarifying that there is an often overlooked confusion between scientific modelling which seeks to find repeating patterns of relationship in nature (and to thereby try and make make accurate predictions); and metaphysics, which seeks, philosophically to understand the fundamental nature of things in themselves. I have no problem… Read more »

Sorry, Not Buying It
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Sorry, Not Buying It

“Just as biblical literalists have shown a tendency toward fundamentalist reversion in the face of their ‘truths’ being overturned, so too do the adherents of materialist philosophy become increasingly dogmatic as the weight of the ‘hard problem of consciousness’ reveals the limitations of their core belief.”
There is no “hard problem” of consciousness, because consciousness isn’t what we thought it was. Ultimately, consciousness is just a bag of tricks. It is in fact the weight of neuroscience and computer science that are revealing the limitations of the dualist approach.

Norman Pilon
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Thank you for your reply, Mog. Okay. Lets see if I get this: A materialist in your sense of the term believes that reality is wholly deterministic and that in its relations of causes and effects, it is largely independent of whatever anyone may believe about it, and furthermore, that it is possible for us to apprehend aspects of reality more or less as they are in themselves, as structures or patterns both external to and independent of any experience of ‘knowing’ them, that is to say, of ‘knowing’ in either a perceptual or conceptual sense. But materialism defined in… Read more »

mog
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I think you have made a few leaps in there that I have cannot follow. I say that materialism is philosophically and scientifically flawed. As such the dogmatic adherence to it manifests as a kind of religion of Scientism. (I would suspect that many on the science march would fall into this category.) It is the false idea of neutral objectivity which this metaphysical underpinning gives to contemporary science that leaves science at the whim of nazis or transnational corporations. Science is not neutral, it is always going somewhere, and if we write our very SELVES out of the pursuit… Read more »

Norman Pilon
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Okay, Let me try again. I’ll take what you’ve written a few lines at a time: a) “I say that materialism is philosophically and scientifically flawed. As such the dogmatic adherence to it manifests as a kind of religion of Scientism. (I would suspect that many on the science march would fall into this category.)” To put briefly, you declare that we live in an age where science grounded in the precepts of materialism — which you’ve yet to adequately define — is essentially a cult. And I suppose that that’s certainly one of the hallmarks of a cult, that… Read more »

mog
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This is a big subject. I have linked to writings that I think best make the case as I have read it.
It would be much easier if science as we know it could ‘make the rule of an oligarchy impossible’. I think though, that is a fool’s errand. Morality lies beyond the realms of scientific investigation, and the kind of scientism that purports to replace the avenues that we do have for addressing moral dilemas, would cut us off from the chances of a moral society.
Soviet and Chinese communism are prime examples of attempts at this which failed.

Norman Pilon
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If, as you suggest, making the rule of an oligarchy is a fool’s errand, then we are simply fucked. Because for as long as it exists, enforced expropriation, poverty and war will be the rule, exactly as it is now, with science and technology easing the way for that interminable rape. As for the successes or failures of the Russians and Chinese, they were but opening gambits. It took the bourgeoisie 300 years to topple Feudalism in Europe, and not for trying and failing numerous times. But here we are under “their” reign. Attempts along the lines of the Soviet… Read more »

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Sorry, Not Buying It

“Bernard Kustrup is a contemporary thinker who seeks to flesh out the case (both philosophically and scientifically) that materialism is balony” This culture is replete with bourgeois blow-hards seeking to make a name for themselves by smuggling mysticism in through the back-door and appearing to be “heretics” against a scientific establishment that is itself replete with philosophical idealist infections. What the working class needs isn’t Bernard Kustrup, but V.I. Lenin. I recommend reading A. O. Sternin’s ‘Lenin’s “Materialism and Empirio-Criticism”‘ (Progress Publishers Moscow, 1988). Lenin was a serious thinker and an actual revolutionary who cut through the idealist muck like… Read more »

mog
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@Sorry I’m Not Buying It It is important to distinguish between (or define) ‘religion’, ‘mysticism’ and metaphysical arguments. It is important to distinguish the discipline of science from the metaphysics of materialism. Some of your reply uses these terms interchangably, which makes it harder to get to your core argument. But what is ‘greed’? If it’s so destructive, why can’t we ‘fix it’? I don’t think these are political questions, in fact asking such questions quickly leads us to others about fundamental human nature, i.e. to the three fundamental speculations that have troubled people for as long as we know… Read more »

Sorry, Not Buying It
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Sorry, Not Buying It

“It is important to distinguish between (or define) ‘religion’, ‘mysticism’ and metaphysical arguments.” The problem is that the religionists themselves refuse to do this. Whenever some aspect of their belief system is focused upon by the atheist, they move the goal posts and feign ignorance as to what the atheist is talking about. Thus, God is imagined by many people in this sappy culture to be an amorphous something-or-other that “can’t be defined”, and yet, it “gives people hope”, is the object of people’s prayers, and is supposed to provide a moral framework for living. “I think what Curtin is… Read more »

mog
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I’ll take the commissar’s view any time.
Terrifying.

Sorry, Not Buying It
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Sorry, Not Buying It

The sob of the petit-bourgeois who doesn’t appreciate that revolution isn’t a dinner party.

lordbollomofthegrange
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revolution isn’t a dinner party.
exactly !
Historically it has unleashed absolute terror, most of which dealt out from the hands of people who see things in very simplistic binary ways. Any means justify the ends. No different in nature from Spanish inquisitors or conquistadors.
Read Koestler.
It is not ‘The Yogi OR The Commissar’, it is ‘The Yogi and The Commissar’.

Sorry, Not Buying It
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Sorry, Not Buying It

You’ve also utterly missed the point.

Sorry, Not Buying It
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Sorry, Not Buying It

“Most religions assert that this material world is essentially illusory, and that death is a gateway into a revelation of what is truly real.”
That’s precisely why religion serves a reactionary social role: it trivializes the material world by casting it as “illusory”. The emancipation of the working class cannot come about through such mystical obfuscations. Unbeknown to you, you’ve listed a reason why religion needs to be struggled AGAINST.

Sorry, Not Buying It
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Sorry, Not Buying It

“What needs to be challenged with the utmost urgency are the philosophical underpinings of the ‘scientific world view’ : i.e. Materialism.” Not even slightly true. Philosophical materialism needs to be PROMOTED, because right now the world’s masses are wallowing miserably in all sorts of philosophical idealist claptrap – holdovers from the ages of pre-science and feudalism, and promoted by the forces of anti-communism – that is preventing them from seizing power for themselves. Anti-materialist notions add nothing to scientific understanding and serve only to dilute and muddle it. This is why most scientists are agnostics or atheists; the religious overhead… Read more »

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Sorry, Not Buying It

Meant to say “effects must necessarily have causes…”

Edward Curtin
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Edward Curtin

I usually don’t comment on comments about what I write, but I feel compelled to reply to mog’s astute words since they prefigure the sequel I am writing. Let me be brief: Mog cuts to the heart of the matter – materialism is the issue and people like Steiner and advanced scientific thinkers confirm that. The mainstream scientific materialistic presupposition is a religion.

Norman Pilon
Reader

You say, Edward, that ‘materialism’ is the issue, that the mainstream scientific materialistic presupposition is a religion. What, then, do you understand by the term ‘materialism?’ And has it led us astray because it is a religion, or because it is the wrong kind of religion? (Leaving aside for the moment what you understand by the word ‘materialism,’ by designating it as a ‘religious’ presupposition, you mean, I take it, that this prefiguring assumption is an arbitrary and therefore dogmatic and irrational assumption. It is a belief, in other words, that is unexamined and therefore effectively unconscious, arbitrary and irrational.… Read more »

Phantastron
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Phantastron

There seems to be considerable agreement here regarding Curtin’s piece. But what is he saying? What do remarks like the following mean, precisely? “We can’t conceive of our ends since they conjure up nothing, having been swallowed by the means, while the purpose of our lives is reduced to staying alive as long as possible. The Faustian goal has always been immortality, and we have been infected with the fear that death, and therefore life, may be meaningless. The quest for scientific “immortality” is a means to a means without end. It is a symptom of the profound spiritual crisis… Read more »

rosshendry
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Thank you Edwin Curtin. I totally agree.
Spirituality has generally been lost in the headlong rush to “unlock the secrets of nature” . We now have good reason to rue the hubris which flowed from what seemed like a wholly beneficial power to manipulate the external world, blissfully unaware of the possibility of unintended consequences.
Actually we may not be scientific enough, The dogmas of science are holding it back from investigating connections that weren’t thought possible – from understanding ecology, as distinct from isolated phenomena.
Rupert Sheldrake makes some good points:

Neutron
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Neutron

“Who would study and describe the living, starts By driving the spirits out of the parts: In the palm of his hand he holds all the sections, Lacks nothing, except the spirit’s connection.” It is entirely possible (and I would say sensible) to be cautious with regard to the truth claims of scientific theories. This does not mean throwing science out wholesale — it means a more realistic appraisal of both observable and unobservable phenomena, especially how the latter are treated in theory-building and research. Confidence in the science behind cancer treatment leading to ‘real world’ successes should be lower… Read more »

paulcarline
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The existential problem is the problem of meaninglessness and purposelessness (other than pleasure and the amassing of possessions) which so-called science has persuaded many is our ineluctable lot. Evolutionism (the pesudo-science of a purely materialistic evolutionary biology) has told us for a century and a half that we are the accidental creatures of an undirected, meaningless and purposeless process – and that the ‘law of nature’ is the “survival of the fittest” in the struggle for existence: the founding myth of modern capitalism. Real science – the search for the truth regardless of where it may lead – is almost… Read more »

Sorry, Not Buying It
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Sorry, Not Buying It

“Evolutionism (the pesudo-science of a purely materialistic evolutionary biology) has told us for a century and a half that we are the accidental creatures of an undirected, meaningless and purposeless process – and that the ‘law of nature’ is the “survival of the fittest” in the struggle for existence: the founding myth of modern capitalism.” So for you, a “true” science of evolutionary biology would have to smuggle in mysticism? The working class needs science, not mysticism. It needs to grasp historical laws of development so that it can consciously utilize them rather than being unconsciously shaped by them. Evolutionary… Read more »

MS
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MS

But popular “science” as served up on TV and in the media, and promoted through funding isn’t really science any more. It’s simply another arm of the propaganda monster. Real science is a methodology, a means of approaching a problem, not a set of pre-detertmined beliefs or orthodoxies to be defended with threats of excommunication or cries of “woo.” Real science doesn’t exclude anything a priori and regards knowledge as impermanent and evolutionary. Real science is not in opposition to “woo” or mysticism. Real science is not in opposition to anything except its own antithesis – non-science. That is to… Read more »

Sorry, Not Buying It
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Sorry, Not Buying It

“Marxists need to update and realise that popular “science” is now the opiate of the masses, serving exactly the function religion once did to silence dissent, and offer paternalistic illusions of certitude.”
Yes, the bourgeoisie do wield science in their class interests, just as they do everything else. This, however, is not to credit mysticism at all, especially since mysticism is also wielded by the bourgeoisie.

Sorry, Not Buying It
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Sorry, Not Buying It

“Real science is not in opposition to “woo” or mysticism.” Of course it is. What you wrote is a petit-bourgeois deviation guaranteed to lead right back to the noxious tendencies that you yourself decry. While doubt and uncertainty are undoubtedly important foundations of science, this emphatically doesn’t mean that “anything goes”. It doesn’t mean that science is not grounded in the material interactions of the world and how people come into contact with that material world. The masses need to be armed with the science of revolution, the science of social and historical development and to grasp the laws of… Read more »

mog
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MS,
I agree, and find the use of the word ‘scientism’ useful in distinguishing between true science (i.e. a methodical and proven approach toward certain types of knowledge), and the civil religion you mention as a dogmatic obstruction.
http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/the-religion-of-progress.html

michaelk
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michaelk

It’s, I would argue, impossibler to look at modern science without examining the relationship it has to liberal capitalism. They are joined, as is almost everything else in modern culture, at the hip. Overwhelmingly science is financed by the state and the corporations in the United States. Roughly, about three quarters of all science is linked, in one way or another, to the vast US military/industrial complex. This fact alone has profound implications for the direction and character of modern science. Arguably, this has always been so throughout history, only today it’s become integrated and institutionalized to an absolutely extraordinary… Read more »

Norman Pilon
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The problem isn’t ‘science’ or the ‘idea of progress’ as such; the problem is as with everything else now subordinated to the ironclad rule of ‘Profit,’ to the implacable God of Money and Blood, that which must be served above all else, the end of all means, the reason of all reasons, Science, like war, as purposeful activity directed to an end, as presently institutionalized under corporate control, doesn’t just happen; like war, it is funded to a specific end, namely and at bottom and as it happens, to increase the wealth of the already supremely rich. The kernel of… Read more »

Philip Roddis
Reader

Completely agree. Re your penultimate paragraph, my big gripe with liberalism is its refusal – understandable but wrongheaded – to confront the full implications of a system where everything is subordinated to the dctates of profit. That really is everything

Dead World Walking
Reader
Dead World Walking

‘There’s only one big lie.
It goes a lot like this.
Work hard, believe and buy
You’ll have perpetual bliss’
Many scientists see themselves as the new priesthood. Science is as fallible as religion, and far more deadly.
The numinous cannot be weighed or measured, but like love, its existence is irrefutable.

Willem
Reader
Willem

‘Yes, marching for science is marching for science, but not in the way the demonstrators think. It is marching for a means to a means.’ As a person with a scientific occupation who has to spend much of his days in trying to get his projects funded, I am kind of disheartened by the idea that I have to use myself as ‘a means’ to get ‘a means’, i.e. that my CV, or with whom I work is so very important to get funding, which is a means to do my research. And this is what I did not like… Read more »

Philip Roddis
Reader

My problem with this is its failure to disentangle effects of science and technology from those of their subordination – and consequent threat to environment, peace, human welfare and real freedom – to the dictates of profit. Monopoly ownership of private capital by a tiny elite, itself a slave to the iron law of chasing the highest return, and the chaotic effects these things have on wealth creation – hence every other aspect of our lives – this, surely, is root driver of the existential problems Curtin speaks of.

Anna Zimmerman
Reader
Anna Zimmerman

Whilst I would agree that the profit motive does not help, it is simplistic to attribute all the problems from arise from the worship of science/technology to that alone. The real problem is the arrogant notion that humanity can and should dominate nature, using science and technology as the means – this would persist with or without the profit motive. There is nothing wrong with science when it is respectful of all, but like all knowledge it has the potential to lead to inflated egos and megalomania. This is really what needs cutting down to size.

writerroddis
Reader
writerroddis

“The .. arrogant notion that humanity can and should dominate nature, using science and technology as the means – this would persist with or without the profit motive.” Hi Anna. With respect, neither of us know this. But here is a fact: capitalism is existentially antithetical to planned wealth creation. Its guiding principles – nay, iron laws – are (a) private monopoly ownership of the means of wealth creation; (b) pursuit of the highest returns on invested capital; (c) deification/reification of The Market. Planned economies – not in some warped parody of socialism within a capitalist world order but as… Read more »

Jen
Reader
Jen

That notion of humans dominating nature comes from Christianity (specifically, from the Book of Genesis in which God tells Adam that he has dominion over the creatures God has created).
Not so long ago of course, science and technology lent themelves to buttressing and justifying the seizure of lands (and their resources) from aboriginal peoples who were often forced to give up their bodies and skeletons for science as well. Sciences like anthropology and linguistics have dubious histories of association with racism and white supremacy.

Frank
Reader
Frank

Ah yes, the inevitability of progress, a Whiggish invention.
Consider the following. When the Crossbow was first invented it was thought that this was such a barbaric and heinous weapon that the Second Lateran Council under Pope Innocent II in 1139 banned its use against Christians, as well as slings.
However in our more enlightened times, we have made weapons that can literally indiscriminately kill hundreds of thousands if not millions of people at a stroke.
This is called: Progress.