Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Bullshit or Not: Feyerabend Editon

There's an old sketch film called Amazon Women on the Moon and one of the bits is a parody of the old Leonard Nimoy show, "In Search Of..." called, "Bullshit or Not?" with the tagline "Bullshit or not? You decide." It's a line I like so much that I've stolen it for a regular series of posts.

This week is philosophy of science's bad boy, Paul Feyerabend.

a little brainwashing will go a long way in making the history of science duller, simpler, more uniform, more ‘objective’ and more easily accessible to treatment by strict and unchangeable rules.

Scientific education as we know it today has precisely this aim. It simplifies ‘science’ by simplifying its participants: first, a domain of research is defined. The domain is separated from the rest of history (physics, for example, is separated from metaphysics and from theology) and given a ‘logic’ of its own. A thorough training in such a ‘logic’ then conditions those working in the domain; it makes their actions more uniform and it freezes large parts of the historical process as well. Stable ‘facts’ arise and persevere despite the vicissitudes of history. An essential part of the training that makes such facts appear consists in the attempt to inhibit institutions that might lead to a blurring of boundaries. A person’s religion, for example, or his metaphysics, or his sense of humour (his natural sense of humour and not the inbred and always rather nasty kind of jocularity one finds in specialized professions) must not have the slightest connection with his scientific activity. His imagination is restrained, and even his language ceases to be his own. This is again reflected in the nature of scientific ‘facts’ which are experienced as being independent of opinion, belief, and cultural background.

It is thus possible to create a tradition that is held together by strict rules, and that is also successful to some extent. But is it desirable to support such a tradition to the exclusion of everything else? Should we transfer to it the sole rights for dealing in knowledge, so that any result that has been obtained by other methods is at once ruled out of court? And did scientists ever remain within the boundaries of the traditions they defined in this narrow way? To these questions my answer will be a firm and resounding NO.
So, is the scientific method a myth created to assure science a privileged place in society, but one that ends up destroying science in the process?

As usual, feel free to leave comments ranging from a single word to a dissertation. So...bullshit or not?