18 January 2014


I started reading the article "The Closing of the Scientific Mind" on the recommendation of Arts & Letters Daily a few weeks ago. That has been my go-to site for gathering reading material when not deep into a novel. I comb through the interesting articles, add them to Readability, then send them to my Kindle. Long web articles are much more enjoyable on the Kindle.

This article, however, was agonizingly bad. Just painfully, painfully stupid.

The premise was a review of how computer technology has altered our view of humanity. The result was a caricatured attack on science. It pushes all my buttons for the misplaced arrogance of the Can Science Explain A Rainbow?!?? crowd, so the number of eye rolls per sentence were probably out of proportion to its offenses. But just a few:

[Scientists] have forgotten their obligation to approach with due respect the scholarly, artistic, religious, humanistic work that has always been mankind's main spiritual support. ... But science used to know enough to approach cautiously and admire from outside, and to build its own work on a deep belief in human dignity. No longer. - From the start, there's a feigned whither humanism back-of-hand-to-forehead fretting. From the straw man of some perfect historical time when scientific investigations circumscribed certain areas to the presumed right that some subjects are off limits. Man has searched for answers to everything everywhere at all times. It is only magisterial forces that would stop those investigations. Saying curiosity is offensive is like saying hunger is offensive.

Many scientists are proud of having booted man off his throne at the center of the universe and reduced him to just one more creature ... They are abusing their cultural standing. Science has become an international bully. - Confusion of outcome with intent, paired with oddly medieval incendiary phrasing. I'll assume that this is a reference to the discovery of evolution and the defense of that fact is the bullying we're discussing. How odd that the defense of the weak interaction of electrons or the gravity generated by physical objects is never assailed by the religious and ignorant. One discovered fact is little different from another, and certainly has no morality.

Attacking Darwin is the sin against the Holy Ghost that pious scientists are taught never to forgive. - I'll simply rewrite as: attacking universally accepted truths without any evidence against them reveals the attacker as a crackpot. There, that's better. Also, apparently when all you have is a hammer, everything must be expressed in terms of spirituality.

The Kurzweil Cult teaches that... - Ha. Kurzweil, in the most charitable circles, is considered a ... well, I'll just quote from a very popular review by a Carnegie Mellon professor of Kurzweil's most ambitious book, stating it is A Rare Blend of Monster Raving Egomania and Utter Batshit Insanity. The study of artificial intelligence and consciousness is far from a mature area. Much more is unknown than is known. To not only attack the unproven theories but also present them as the signpost of all of science, and pick the biggest crackpot out there as the model, is ... simply being an asshole.

There is much more in this vein, and I have to admit I could only rage through half of it, so maybe it completely turns around in the end. One last thing about the author: David Gelernter is a professor of computer science at Yale. This makes me sad.

[ posted by sstrader on 18 January 2014 at 9:51:27 AM in Science & Technology ]