Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is an investigative journalist and writer focusing on the radical Left and Islamic terrorism.
The alchemists and astrologists who were the distant ancestors of modern science believed in a world of absolute truths. Uncovering the right formula, searching the sweep of sky, offered total control over the otherwise mysterious forces of the universe. Our current knowledge of the way that things are tells us that while the universe may have absolute realities, our understanding of them will never be so.
Quantum indeterminacy has left us with a universe in which the drive to know is constrained by our search for knowledge. Existence seems to be built to challenge our hubris, forcing us to think about our flaws, limiting us to dimensions and points in time, and asking us to accept what we cannot know.
The universe is not a machine that we can take apart and rebuild. It is built to be partly unknowable.
And the more we study the universe, the more we understand the importance of the observer. Science is not the genius jumping out of his bath, shouting, “Eureka”, and running through the streets, without the benefit of his cloak, to jot down the formula: it’s the ability to defy the variability of the universe by achieving the intended results, and replicating them over and over again by different observers.
That’s why there are a million worthless studies announced every year that are just birdcage liners.
In the middle of a pandemic in which experts rule the land and elected officials discard the Bill of Rights while claiming to be religiously following the science, it is more vital than ever to remember that the true scientific search for knowledge provides us with more doubts than certainties. A model is an evolving guesstimate and following it does not invest any politician’s actions with infallibility.
Science isn’t something you believe. It’s what you do and how you do it. And how someone else does it.
Believing in science, like believing all women, has become a mark of cultural virtue. Yet the people most likely to say that they believe in science are the least likely to value objectivity and healthy skepticism. Science, for such people, has taken the place of religion in providing certainty in an uncertain world. When science is used to signal virtue and provide certainty, it’s not science, but a hollow religion.
Science isn’t a creed you follow. No priesthood of experts can ensure you make the right decisions. To know more about a subject is important, but is not the same thing as a correct conclusion. In science, the assumptions of knowledge can be nearly as perilous a trap as ignorance. That is why every great scientific revolution begins with the overthrow of the experts. That’s why they call it a revolution.
But the modern ruling class, like ancient emperors and sultans, demands certainty. A science that doesn’t predict the world is useless and a science that doesn’t affirm their view of the world is heretical. The roots of the elite are in universities that began as divinity schools before losing the divinity, and they still want to believe in an absolute truth as long as it is the one that they already happen to believe in.
“Veritas,” says the Harvard seal. “Lux et Veritas,” proclaims its Yale cousin.
Along the way, veritas became gravitas. The importance of the expert overshadowed the verifiability of his claims. The decline of the divine in the lives of the ruling class had not diminished its desire for absolute truths. It sought these truths in the tangled recesses of the human psyche, before realizing that the quantum indeterminacy of the universe was nothing compared to the indeterminacy of the human mind, and in societal models that sought to understand people as a collective when they could not be grokked as individuals. The new astrology was a science of collectives experimented on by force.
The exploration of the human mind had come up against the quantum indeterminacy of free will. Collectives could be compelled and manipulated on a macro scale to eliminate the free will problem. And then the results would always match the ones that the experts had predicted. Instead of using science to understand people, people would be used to uphold the pseudoscience of the ruling class.
Collective ideologies operate in a deterministic universe. There’s no room for quantum fluctuations if you’re going to impose your solution on hundreds of millions of people. All you need to know is the classes of things. Then, using a sense of moral certainty that egotists easily confuse with truth, you roll the policy bowling ball right down the lane and assume that all the human pins will stand and wait for it.
That sort of science is bad enough. The difference between sociology and phrenology, a Master of Public A’s and a medieval loon in a purple hat, is not in veritas, but in gravitas. Gravitas is conveyed by certainty and certainty, in a quantum universe, is often the opposite of verity. The more certain we are of something, the further away we are from a true understanding of reality. Socratic wisdom requires humility. But membership in the modern expert class demands a certainty that truth cannot provide.
Ideological sciences borrow the gravitas of science while beginning from conclusions, not hypothesis, discarding the conscientious methodologies, while retaining the outward facades, insisting that their conclusions are certain while eliminating the uncertainty that characterizes actual science. Certainty is what ideologues want from science, but science is the process of navigating infinite uncertainties.
When science is politicized, uncertainties disappear and are replaced with false certainties. The methodologies which filter out observer bias are subverted and observer bias becomes the process. Politicized science does not seek to learn, but to affirm the cultural convictions of its class. It is not searching for the truth, because it already knows it. Its only purpose is to uphold the ruling class.
Studies, experiments, and models are tools. They’re not magical means of ineffably arriving at the truth, but of struggling with the uncertainties that distinguish the pursuit of knowledge from epistemological narcissism. When the experimenters refuse to accept what they do not know, then the methodology is as worthless as the arcane formulas of alchemists because it is not fulfilling its vital task of sifting uncertainties. Research that reinforces our biases isn’t pursuing knowledge: it’s an echo chamber.
The Left lacks many of the qualities necessary for wisdom, but the root of all its folly is a lack of humility. Its intellectual systems are complex, compelling, and occasionally dazzling, but so were those of countless philosophies, many now lost to history, which claimed to explain the world, but only charted the complex rationalizations and labyrinthine passages of the human psyche. While the Left claims that its ideas explain reality, they’re never been anything other than a chamber of intellectual echoes.
Contrary to their protestations, radicals don’t learn about reality from reality, overlaying the exterior world on to their interior worlds, instead they map their internal emotional states on to the outside world. That is why radicalism has been the timeless hobby of the children of privileged classes who have the ego and leisure time to dramatize their emotional states as a moral crisis encompassing the world.
Leftist theories don’t derive from the privileged scion experiencing the plights of migrant farmworkers, oppressed minorities in the ghetto, protesting factory workers, furious coal miners, angry tribesmen, or any of the other mythological tropes that transmute college students into crusading heroes. These are just the characters who allow them to act out the inner narratives of their egos. And the theories provide the world-building framework for an enduring heroic struggle that will transform mankind.
We believe some things because they are true and other things because they make us feel strong.
A universe of quantum indeterminacy does not make us feel strong. It humbles us. And this humility is what we feel when truly seeking knowledge in religion or science. Humility can appear to be a weakness, but it is truly a great source of strength because it allows us to see the world as it is and to connect to something far greater than us. It is not for the Ozymanidases who want a shortcut to absolute power.
Radicals don’t live with uncertainty. There is no room for humility in the conviction that you already have all the answers and are out to save the world. And there is no room for humility or truth in the science that such people, or those under their auspices practice. It is not a science of uncertainties, but of the certainties that come from realizing the heroic stories of the psyche that we tell ourselves.
Picture little boys playing with toy soldiers or caped superheroes. That is politicized science. It doesn’t venture into the unknown. It invents a series of crises, and makes those who listen to the stories feel heroic for fighting them. In the adult world, the little hills of the sandbox become mansions and houses of state, fortunes are won, power is secured, and all the adult assets that come with it in real life.
Truth however is lost. And when truth is lost, everything else is lost too.
Ask the Soviet Union or Venezuela. Ask the Nazis or any cult. There is a limit to how much any political entity can exist while living in a fantasy world. The universe is a harsh place. Everything from physics to economics exacts a price. Energy is finite. And even the human mind can only believe so many lies.
As a civilization, we need science. But it is not the scientism of unquestioningly believing experts because they have a degree, of mistaking the external rituals of science for truth, and of believing rather than thinking for ourselves. When it comes to science, when we believe, then we stop thinking.
And then it’s no longer science. Science is not a façade of experts. It is the search for truth.
When people, whether they’re farmers, politicians, or scientists, cease to search for truth and instead express ‘my truths’, the truths in their minds, they step out of reality and begin living in their own heads. And eventually reality exacts a price too high even for the lotus eaters and growers to endure.
Radicals corrupt science into a deterministic echo chamber leaving them with neither science nor truth.