Quote of the Day, May 10 2011 — How science becomes dogma

“The usual sequence occurs: an ensuing elaboration of largely self-referential theory and writing, which seems to be deliberately positioned beyond criticism, by being made difficult for the rest of us to examine. In the end, only ‘experts’ may make a valid comment. Any outsider challenge risks ridicule, yet paradoxically, there is an insistence that what is being espoused out to be revered and universally acknowledged as ‘the truth’.

Viewed from this perspective, the Higgs bosun and angels on pinheads seem intimately related devices.

Perhaps the whole tiresome process is a very human trait. After all, the same exponential growth of busy, puritanical personnel and written bilge also occurs when bureaucracies become autonomous. I’ve even witnessed the same process of professionalised obfuscation evolve in ‘fine art’ critical writing.”

-John Foxx, in an interview with Etienne Gilfillan, “John Foxx Interviewed”, The Fortean Times, FT273, May 2011, pgs 40-43.

I’ve been reading the Fortean Times for over 10 years now — while I don’t always agree with what is written by various contributors I usually read it cover to cover when I get a new issue.

I had never heard of John Foxx before reading the interview I quoted above, but he had some very perceptive things to say about how human nature & science interact. Another very interesting passage later in the article said:

“We might need to make some distinction between what has come to be known as ‘theoretical science’ and the real thing. Science is intrinsically conservative — it can’t allow anything unproven and unrepeatable into itself, otherwise it would simply not be functional. We need to maintain a body of knowledge that is proven and trustworthy and not at all speculative. To allow unproven elements in would be destructive to the rest, because this body of knowledge is a distillation of everything the human race has accumumlated in its history, and can rely upon as true and certain — as much as anything can be in this Universe.

So the theoretical side is a complete misnomer and ought to have another title, because it is very far from being ‘science’. ‘Speculative science’ or ‘unproven science’ might be better terms — science-in-waiting. Ideas that still require testing by reliable physical experiment. This is not to say that theory and speculation have no place — they are of course absolutely vital and must continue, so they can eventually add to the body of science — but only after being proven through physical testing.

I say ‘physical’ to distinguish between this and mathematical proof — since mathematics is rather like a map, simply not the territory it represents. Rather it’s an intellectual model or construct, and as such, fallible in many ways.”

Anyway, a very good article. And as always, this issue of The Fortean Times was very informative, interesting, and entertaining.

On a final note — HALLELUJAH!!! Mr. Foxx mentioned the etchings of Roman ruins by Piranesi in his article. Years ago at the Portland Art Museum I saw a showing of utterly gorgeous prints taken from etchings of Roman ruins, done by an Italian gentleman a few centuries ago. I forgot to note his name at the time and later I was unable to find any mention of the exhibit or the original artist at the Portland Art Museum’s web site, even though I found detailed notes about other exhibits I saw both before & after I saw the etchings.

Doing a quick search on the internet, yes Piranesi was the artist whose etchings I saw. His full name was Giovanni Battista Piranesi, the Wikipedia page on him is here, Fulcrum Gallery has some commercial museum-quality prints available, and if you want to spend a few dollars more R. E. Lewis & Daughter Original Prints has some original prints of his etchings available for a few thousand dollars each.

One thought on “Quote of the Day, May 10 2011 — How science becomes dogma

  1. Mr. Foxx makes a good point. It is no longer statements of faith that are inviolate, but statements of “science.” I recently had a conversation with a fellow who adamantly swore up and down that naturalistic evolution was 100% scientifically proven. I know he was simply parroting his sophomore-level college professor, but…wow. When theory somehow becomes incontrovertible fact, true scientific discovery cannot take place, nevermind a reasonable discussion in the marketplace of ideas.

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