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Monday, November 19, 2012

Can Unity Be Bad?

In one of the final chapters of his essay, Feyerabend attacks the conventional notion of the benefits of scientific unity. He outlines three main questions:
1. What is science? How do scientists proceed, how do their standards differ from the standards of other enterprises? 
Unlike other scientists or philosophers of science who try to define science in the most efficient and encompassing ways possible, Feyerabend instead argues that such mechanisms, while they may help analyze the achievements and drawbacks of various approaches, eventually only serve to "put one view on top and subordinate the others to it, either by pseudo-derivations, or by declaring them to be meaningless."

Basically, he declares that by narrowing and bounding science to a single interpretation and a single coherent world-view, we at best try to "anticipate a future unity" and at worst bring about a giant "pedagogical fake." He quotes John Ziman, who in his Teaching and Learning About Science and Society argued that,
There is no simple "scientific" map of reality - or if there were, it would be much too complicated and unwieldy to be grasped or used by anyone. But there are many different maps of reality, from a variety of scientific viewpoints.
 Feyerabend also suggests that by limiting science to one definition we reject the possibility of conflicting or inconsistent hypotheses and theories, which can rise to be crucial in scientific advancements.

2. What's so great about science? What are the reasons that might compel us to prefer the sciences to other forms of life and ways of gathering knowledge?
"Popularity, i.e. familiarity with some results and the belief that they are important," is "a measurement of greatness," as Feyerabend describes. But the flaw lies in the fact that the general public believes in a singular, "mythical monster 'science'." The public assumes that
the achievements they read about in the educational pages of their newspapers and the threats they seem to perceive come from a single source and are produced by a uniform procedure. They know that biology is different from physics which is different from geology. But these disciplines, it is assumed, arise when 'the scientific way' is applied to different topics; the scientific way itself, however, remains the same.
But it must also be noted that the fact that a specific approach is "scientific" by some criterion does not guarantee its success or efficiency; each case, each approach, each methodology must be judged and analyzed separately. By perceiving science as a single approach, we (including the general public) narrow our vision to disregard theories that directly oppose conventional ideas, which serve as the main tool for scientific change.
 3. How are we to use the sciences and who decides the matter?
Regardless of the negative consequences that such appeals to a chimaera bring to the field of science, he still mentions that it can have crucial political impacts:
A uniform 'scientific view of the world' may be used for people doing science - it gives them motivation without tying them down. It is like a flag. Though presenting a single pattern, it makes people do many different things.

 Thus a community will use science in "a way that agrees with its values and aims," and it will also use it to "correct the scientific institutions in its midst to bring them closer to these aims." Politically, such ideas can be a political tool that sparks scientific progress.

Nonetheless, Feyerabend warns that,
It is a natural disaster for outsiders...It suggests to them the most narrowminded religious commitment and encourages a similar narrowmindedness on their part.


*This post concludes the analyses of Feyerabend's Against Method and marks the short beginning of the applications of topics from Michio Kaku's Physics of the Impossible.

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