10 dogmas of science dismantled

In #science #science

In his talk about the limitations of science, Rupert Sheldrake lists the "10 dogmas of modern science" (also listed here in text http://wariscrime.com/new/the-ten-dogmas-of-modern-science/). They are:

  1. Everything is essentially mechanical. Dogs, for example, are complex mechanisms, rather than living organisms with goals of their own. Even people are machines, ‘lumbering robots’, in Richard Dawkins’s vivid phrase, with brains that are like genetically programmed computers.
  2. All matter is unconscious. It has no inner life or subjectivity or point of view. Even human consciousness is an illusion produced by the material activities of brains.
  3. The total amount of matter and energy is always the same (with the exception of the Big Bang, when all the matter and energy of the universe suddenly appeared).
  4. The laws of nature are fixed. They are the same today as they were at the beginning, and they will stay the same for ever.
  5. Nature is purposeless, and evolution has no goal or direction.
  6. All biological inheritance is material, carried in the genetic material, DNA, and in other material structures.
  7. Minds are inside heads and are nothing but the activities of brains. When you look at a tree, the image of the tree you are seeing is not ‘out there’, where it seems to be, but inside your brain.
  8. Memories are stored as material traces in brains and are wiped out at death.
  9. Unexplained phenomena like telepathy are illusory.
  10. Mechanistic medicine is the only kind that really works.

These are presented as dogmas, unquestioned by scientists and taken for granted. Many of these are demonstrably false or misleading. When he states (1) that animals and people "are complex mechanisms, rather than living organisms with goals of their own", this is an either-or fallacy. They could be both mechanisms and agents. It could be that we use different vocabulary on different scales - I don't describe baseball in terms of quantum mechanics, even though I am confident that all the components of baseball is governed by quantum mechanics.

Sheldrake lists a number of things which are poorly understood, for which there is a growing list of research, the conclusions of which are not taken dogmatically. Similarly, there are a number of things in the list where research has been done, and the current perspective (not dogma!) has been arrived at because there has been no evidence to support the alternatives that Sheldrake is implying. Examples of these include (2) "All matter is unconscious", (8) "Memories are stored as material traces", (5) "evolution has no goal", (7) "Minds are inside heads".

With (3), although energy is conserved (in a closed system) and matter is a subset of energy, it is not believed that the Big Bang produced energy. Rather, if the universe came from nothing then the total energy of the universe must be zero - which it empirically seems to be. If the universe did not come from nothing, but came out of a universe-producing process then the energy didn’t “suddenly appear” as Sheldrake suggests.

As to (4), the so-called fixed laws of Nature are a theory - which explains and is consistent with a huge variety of observations. Thus, we are confident in this particular theory. It is possible, though, that the laws to change - and that would be measurable. It is not taken as a dogma.

Point (9) "Unexplained phenomena like telepathy are illusory" is misleading, given its incompleteness. It seems that, given years of observation, telepathy is in fact illusory. However, there are many unexplained phenomena that are not illusory, e.g. dark matter, the placebo effect, etc...

In every one of these cases, scientists don't hold these as dogmas. If you have evidence, then present it! If it turns out that you can demonstrate telepathy, that would be fantastic - but everyone who has tried so far has not been able to demonstrate it. It may be that the universe has purpose, and perhaps it is possible to differentiate a process with a purpose from one without in certain circumstances, but the person making the claim of the extra “purpose” must be the one to bear the burden of proof.

I think it is easier for Sheldrake to accuse someone of a dogmatic view rather than do the hard work of actually convincing them with evidence. Just because I disagree with you doesn't mean that I am dogmatically holding to my view - you just haven't done your homework.