Most Recent Update: 2/22/99
Over the past few months the following remarks have come our way. We appreciate your comments. (RWK, ed.)
Horgan's methodology reminds me of Senator Proxmire's "Golden Fleece" awards ridiculing federally funded research. Even if he was right on some significant fraction of his topics that there is little more to do, there is still much to learn about what man can do to work with man and where computing and communication can contribute, with medicine as a comparatively obvious beginning even pending a "wellness" paradigm. Further there are many ways to leave this solar system and a more sophisticated rendition of our current "pioneering" effort could now carry much of our knowledge on the off chance that we have something to offer to some one out there, and that automation of knowledge could grow profoundly more active and personable with time as we build systems capable of interacting sensibly with people. Scientific edges have an odd way of contributing to tomorrow's engineering and even a gap of a decade or two while science "de-stagnates", which has not happened for some time, is not cause for alarm and a declaration of the end of the world.
Hugo G Blasdel.
Considering that it's going to take the Cassini Saturn Probe seven years to reach its target, I'm not sure there is all that many ways of our reaching beyond this solar system -- except by "proxy" as it were. But I think Blasdel has made a good point. Blasdel tells us that he has a professional degree and a Ph.D. in architecture with work in mathematical psychology, thus fitting no category between science, philosophy and theology, the last of which is a serious interest of his. While I'm not sure how "mathematical psychology" relates to theology, we need more people who are willing to try to fill these gaps. (RWK, ed.)
I think the book The End of Science has a good description of what really happens in the scientific world. The methods the scientific research have gained will not just now be developed further. The knowledge is used to get a better description of nature. There will not be a breakthrough until we have bridged the gap between biology and physics. I think it will be the most important discovery in history of science. The method to find out what is in this gap has not been invented yet. Until that breakthrough we will devote ourself to describe nature as good as we can.
Hans Elvesjö (firstname.lastname@example.org) Stockholm, Sweden
Might anyone have (like Dr. Blasdel, above) any suggestions along this line? (RWK, ed.)
Congratulations on a wonderful website. I just recently came across your site, and I immediately printed up all five available issues. You raise some interesting questions, and I have appreciated the viewpoints represented.
However, I did come across something in your publication which bothered me. This was your admonition to theologians and religionists to respect the viewpoints and beliefs of others. I understand and wholeheartedly support your desire to keep this site from becoming a forum for propaganda and intolerance. However, it has been my experience both as a student of philosophy and a Christian that intolerance is an entirely human response, not one confined strictly to the religious community. As a student of philosophy, I can tell you that the people I come in contact with who are the most ridiculing and condescending towards the views of others are quite frequently atheistic. I have witnessed many an "open, modern mind" slam shut like a steel trap when confronted with opposing viewpoints, often without a proper rational basis for the rejection or outright ridicule of those beliefs.
Scientists and philosophers are no more prone to tolerance and fair play by nature than theologians are prone to intolerance and double standards. For these reasons, I would like very much to see this section of your publication changed, if only in the interest of fair play. A general warning would suffice, I should think.
PS: As to the individual who wrote of the "end of science," we would be well to remember that contemporaries of Newton thought that science would end once the implications of his theories had been all worked out. Nature is not so easily contained, much less described. There are always surprises and wonderful paradoxes to confront us in the future.
Response: Thanks for your vote of confidence. You are undoubtedly quite right about prejudice existing on both sides of the fence that has divided religion and science. We often tend to overlook that there is a dogmatic atheism (as distinguished, perhaps, from a more reverential "agnosticism", as for example, that found in so-called "apophatic" theology) that is often as much as or even more a kind "belief" involving a kind of unquestioning "leap of faith" than is the case with many forms of religious commitment. So maybe our editorial policy statement needs a bit of reworking -- but so far is seems to be working just fine. (RWK, ed.)
Two points regarding Horgan's thesis in his recent work The End of Science. First, the legitimacy of the thesis rests fundamentally on the (putative) fact that there are no, or very few, truly significant anomalous measurements of world phenomena out there to be explained by as yet unarticulated theories. And, what's more, that we have strong reasons (that is, rigorously logical reasons) for believing that this paucity of unexplained measurement will not be replenished in the near or distant future. Ben Gowell
Well, yes, but would not the recent (CNN, Feb. 27, 1998, see also Astronomy Magazine) announcement that the universe may be expanding at an accelerating rate rather than slowly decelerating from the Big Bang, as was generally held up to now, be such an "anomaly" -- particularly if it turns out that a kind of "fifth force" in the guise of a "Cosmological Constant" has to be invoked to explain it? (RWK, ed)
Still more Comments from from Ben Gowell:
Certainly the discovery, if it is confirmed, of accelerating cosmic expansion would constitute an anomaly of the first order. I haven't stated that I'm in agreement with Horgan, but I think the onus is upon the scientific community to show just where precisely the significant anomalies lie (the anomaly referred to by RWK may be termed anomaly #1).
Where I find myself in sympathy with Horgan is in his attempt to lay bare certain of the motivations driving some scientists in their quest to secure research funds. In much of the physical sciences it seems that research which is termed "vital" and "important" is in fact worthy only of the label "esoteric". This is true throughout much of the life sciences as well, but at least in these domains, and in particular in the areas of molecular biology and the neurosciences, so much truly significant research is still being done that it would be jumping the gun (though perhaps only by a few decades) to consign these subjects to the "more-or-less complete" file.
There are roughly a score of core theories in science, and though there is perhaps room for rational argument for the exclusion of a couple or a few which some scientists might list, or for the inclusion of a couple or a few which those scientists might not list, a near consensus of scientists would probably include the following theories:
In Physics, Astronomy, and Cosmology: Newtonian Mechanics, Classical Thermodynamics, Classical Electrodynamics, Special and General Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, and Quantum Field Theory, The Big Bang, Plate Tectonics, and The fusion model of stellar energy production (which is perhaps subsumed by other physics theories above).
In Chemistry: The Oxidation Theory of Combustion (and respiration, and rusting, etc.), the Modern Theory of Elements, the Atomic Theory of Matter, The Periodic Table of the Elements, the Fundamental Theorems of Structural Chemistry (that compounds consist of stable spatial arrangements of atoms of different elements, and that chemical reactions are rearrangements of these structures), and the Quantum Mechanical Theory of the Chemical Bond.
In Biology: The Cellular Theory of Organismal Constitution, Ontogeny, and Pathology, the Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection, Classical Genetics, the Germ Theory of Disease, and Molecular Genetics.
The challenge Horgan lays down regards the exclusivity of this list. Will scientists ever be able to add to (or subtract from) it? It is obviously Horgan's opinion that the answer to this question is 'No'. To effectively rebut him the scientific community must show that it is making inroads in its quest to do just what Horgan claims cannot be done. Criticisms of Horgan's thesis share the same flaw that criticisms of Francis Fukuyama's work, The End of History, had. The critics in both cases generally fail to appreciate the level of profundity about which the author is writing. Horgan would be the first to admit that there are plenty of important genes to be cloned, species to be discovered, chemical compounds to be investigated, galaxies to map, and neural circuits to be delineated, but he is referring to another level of breakthrough, a level whose members are on the list above.
For what it's worth, the areas of scientific inquiry which seem to me to hold the most promise for revolutionary advance are certain of those which Horgan shrugs off, namely, cognitive science, complex systems theory, superstring theory, and possibly evolutionary theory (although Dan Dennett's recent book Darwin's Dangerous Idea seems to just about put the kabosh on that hope). It is critical to both the intrinsic integrity of science as well as to the public's perception of that integrity that scientists "come clean" about just how dynamic or stagnant the cutting edges of their fields presently are. And where, despite intense efforts, stagnancy has persisted for years if not decades, they must honestly acknowledge the possibility that this is the result of there being nothing else of real substance for the cutting edge to cut. Ben Gowell
The following comments come from N.S. Prasad, a scientist with the Indian Space Research Organization in Bangalore, India, who has recently published a book which obviously touches on many of the same themes as Horgan's.
As we scientists are working in narrower and narrower fields, we loose sight of the totality of "Science Knowledge". Science obviously cannot exist in bits and pieces, and each piece claiming itself representing true science. This is why the goal of science is unify the forces of nature and arrive at a single law of Nature that can explain everything in this universe, right from the inner working of the quarks up to the Cosmos. This must also explain the origin, and evolution of life and conciousness.
Against this goal of science there remains the requirements of science -- taking strictly the definition of science, namely that only when a hypothesis is verified experimentally it becomes science after going through Popper's falsification criteria.
Now let us juxtapose all the scientific theories and review them against the goal of science. We notice the limititations to the so called abstract knowledge of science: whether it be Newtonian indeterminism, quantum paradoxes, observation of complexities and chaos even in simple systems and the unified theories which have no hope of experimental verification, limitations of mathematics itself as language for expressing and communicating the knowledge of Science.
Science is branching into more and more narrow fields, which is contrary to the goal of science !
Another interesting thing is lack of understanding about the
nature of "Knowledge" itself and its relation with
entropy and Energy. If information, being the source of
Knowledge, has to come from the environment whose entropy is
constantly on the rise (for a closed universe) more and more
expenditure of energy is involved to extract valuable information
from the environment for the progress of science to be sustained.
Secondly, due to environmental degradation caused by the same
science and technology, future scientists have to spend the
entire resources and time for solving the environmental and
ecological problems leaving no time or resources for fundamental
Prasad's book, Will Science Come To An End? was published by Allied Publishers, New Delhi, 1998. ISBN 81-7023-725-4
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