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Sunday, April 26, 2015

Going Too Far

Scientific revolutions go too far for those committed to normal science.

Newton's Principia went too far, seeming to revive pagan metaphysics in the eyes of  contemporary scholars.  It survived and won a following because it provided a way forward for Astronomy, which was stagnating.  But is was criticized as much by skeptics and cynics as by devout individuals.  

This resistance isn't bad.  It's part of an environmental pressure which ensures Science tests new theories before it adds them to the accepted cannon.  That rigor forces scientists to consider the far-reaching implications of a new idea, digging deep to find possible flaws and errors.  Only theories which add to human understanding are preserved in the long run.

The critique of memetics has been similar to the critique of The Principia, that it is a  reworking of metaphysical beliefs.  Instead of shying away from that critique,  memeticists should lean into it.  We are after all saying there  are entities with life-like characteristics impacting individual and collective thoughts and actions which have been hinted at in literature and lore and social science and is generally beyond the reach of our five senses.  

That's exactly where germ theory was before the microscope...and think how many intelligent individuals scoffed at the idea of many esteemed doctors refused to wash their hands before delivering babies.    Ignaz Semmelweis, who studied the patterns of child-bed fever and found a simple solution went mad with the anxiety generated from the mental inertia of his colleagues and the toll on human lives.

To be a memeticist is to affirm these entities exist.  That seems like an act of faith to some--though many of us have arrived at our conclusions from careful study and observation, such understanding is so unique to individual experience that it is still hard to convince others.  

We are in the process of developing the microscope...until then, we should not be shocked at the resistance from all quarters.  

In persevering, we make an act of faith in ourselves--that we will find a way to measure these entities or we will resign in recognition of our mistaken perception.  We make an act of faith in others--that they are able to comprehend this phenomena if given enough information.  We make an act of faith in the scientific process--that it will weed out our mistakes and refine human knowledge.  We persevere, encouraging those who agree with us but also encouraging our critics--because scientific knowledge must be scrutinized to be proven.  Detractors will only make the discipline stronger, or they will correct our folly quickly--both of which we would be indebted to them for.

To be a practitioner of normative science, it is good to be a skeptic.  A dose of cynicism will act in your favor.  But if you want to step out and create revolutionary science--you break out of the box and take a couple steps of faith.

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