Science is constraining. It requires that we follow certain rules when assessing reality. These rules cannot be bent by hopes, wants or wild imagination.
Some consider the constraints of science to be uncomfortable, especially when they impinge on our emotional intuitions. When science coldly suggests that we are not the center of significance within our universe, we tend to step over the line of science and subjectively don some warm cloak of significance. When science fails to provide sources of justice, morality and human dignity, we are inclined to ignore the lack of objective evidence, and construct subjective plugs or appropriate packaged ideological plugs for these emotional intuitions.
One can hardly blame humans for this inclination to distort reality, since humans are at their very core emotional creatures. Humans who do not participate in a subjective existence very rarely find fulfillment.
However, the choice is not bivalent. One can apply rigorous scientific methodology to life, and at the same time play the game of subjectivity. Imagine a person exploring a city on foot. His subjective perspective is at the street level where he is in a human body and interacting normally with other humans. However, imagine this same human with a GPS system that shows him as a tiny dot in a matrix of streets. Being shown as a dot on a screen does not do much for feelings of significance, yet this perspective is much more reliable and accurate than wherever he subjectively imagines himself to be.
So while we are compelled by our human nature to create a game of subjectivity which includes social significance and a sense of purpose, at no time can we claim this is anything more than a game. Even if we do imagine our significance to be objective, the Goddess Fortuna, through any number of means could mercilessly correct that rosy perspective.
What is real remains only what can be assessed by the tools of science. Consider the chart below.
I’d like to use this chart to first look at only the individual’s perception of self, then the individual’s entire ontology.
First let’s apply the chart to an individual’s perception of self. The blue circle represents the material reality of the individual. The rose-colored oval represents the game of subjective “reality”.
Notions of Self
- A: Physical State This is the quantifiable physical state of the individual, including age, weight, shape and health. Notice that the blue truth of this can be discolored by an overlay of subjectivity.
- B: Socio-economic State This is the quantifiable status of the individual within his social context. This can also be discolored by an emotional subjectivity.
- C: Immaterial Essence This is the perceptual standpoint of an individual who believes he possesses an immaterial mind that can act independent of his material brain. Is just outside the scope of objectivity and has no scientific basis.
- D: Immaterial Privilege This might include the individual’s belief in luck or fate that distinguishes him from the luck or fate of others. It might also include the notion that the individual “deserves” a certain socio-economic status, and whether “truth and justice will prevail” in a material conflict. This notion of self is not only found among theists, but also among most humanists.
- E: Immaterial Relationships This requires an ontology of spiritual entities, far removed from scientific examination or validation, within which the individual has a particular status. This status might be “a child of God” or “a medium of spirits” or simply an individual attempting to appease various spiritual entities.
- F: Teleological Delusion This point, most distant from objective scientific methodology, is derived entirely from the speculations of the emotional imagination. It is the delusion of a final spiritual destination in a place of emotional comfort. Those who spend time and imagination this distant from science are very often also delusional at points “A” and “B” since they are accustomed to operating far outside the constraints of science and logic.
The farther right one advances, the farther removed one is from the objective foundation of quantifiable science. The rosy domain of subjectivity can introduce innumerable immaterial entities and concepts to appease the emotions. This flight from reality is an innate propensity of the human psyche. Science unveils the cold blue facts, often unpalatable to the subjective self which must recolor the facts into something warmer, or simply invent a rosy ontology.
The same chart can be used for possible philosophies to which the individual can subscribe, and in which he can operate.
- A: Physical Sciences This is the commitment to assess physical reality with the machinery and heuristics of scientific methodology without the expectation of any immaterial causes being discovered in the causal chain.
- B: Social Sciences This is a commitment to more sophisticated notions of scientific tools, including statistics and the science of probability applied to economic, social and cultural phenomena.
- C: Speculative Extrapolations This is a step beyond lab science into some of the more philosophical regions of reality that, at present, elude the tools of science. Included in this are speculations whether a computer might someday generate a conscious entity, a notion with much affective pull. The emotional attraction of time travel and space aliens makes many science fiction buffs overly speculative about what is truly possible or logistically practical.
- D: Pseudo-science Here scientific methodology is abandoned or co-opted for concepts that are either wrong or unverifiable. One current example is how our limited understanding of quantum physics is invoked to make claims about free will and homeopathy.
- E: Humanistic Ideologies Here humanists attempt to infuse humanity with some form of dignity as a basis for an objective morality. Perhaps this will be the most difficult notion for humans to get beyond. We want objective reasons to discredit and disparage what we perceive to be injustices in the world. A proper treatment of this problem will probably require another lengthy post at another time.
- F: Mystical Ideologies These are generally comprehensive prepackaged ideologies that require no critical thinking, and unapologetically rely heavily on “faith”. Science and critical thinking are often disparaged within such ideologies. Successful ideologies of this sort will have mythical plugs for every emotional hole.
Note that while it might be respectable for an individual to wander into a more subjective and warmer game of identity, there is no warrant for subscribing to a philosophy outside the confines of scientific methodology. Limiting ourselves to this ideological objectivity requires several counter-human commitments.
- The willingness to say “I don’t know” without conjuring up unverifiable or immaterial solutions.
- The willingness to leave emotional holes unplugged by nonscientific or pseudo-scientific ideologies.
- The understanding and acceptance that our subjective identity is merely a game and has no real referent outside the imagination.
It is this last concept of identity as a game that is most disturbing to many. I won’t address this now, but will have to leave you with the suggestion that, while it is only a game and the only game in town, it is simply amazing!