The Collapse of Scientism and the Rebirth of Science
The oldest image (1228–1229) we have of Francis of Assisi (1182–1226). Not a portrait, but probably not far from the real aspect of Francis. He engaged in a bold attempt to reform the corrupt Catholic Church in Europe. He failed, but he left a trace in history from which we can still learn much. In our times, the corrupt organization that we need to reform is Science, turned now into a state ideology to oppress people and destroy nature. Maybe we need a new St. Francis to reform it, or maybe it needs to be dismantled and rebuilt from scratch in a new structure. Here, I discuss this story and I also reproduce a post by Luisella Chiavenuto (a little long, but worth reading) who has perfectly understood the situation.
By Ugo Bardi
With the turn of the 2nd millennium in Europe, the Catholic Church had gone through the involution that’s typical of all large organizations. It had become huge, bureaucratic, corrupt, and inefficient. A once idealistic and pure organization had been defeated by the arch-corrupter of everything human: money.
Earlier on, Europe had emerged out of the collapse of the Roman Empire as a lean, non-monetized society that had no impulse to grow and conquer outside lands. But the re-monetization of Europe started when rich silver mines were found in Eastern Europe with the turn of the millennium.
Europe was bubbling with a new wealth, a new assertiveness, a new way of seeing the world. Once you have money, you can have an army. And once you have an army, you can search for enemies. Once you have enemies, you can attack them and make more money. With the first crusade, started in 1096, Europe started its transformation from a sleepy peninsula of Eurasia to a military and financial machine that would engage in the conquest of the world. It succeeded at that over half a millennium of conquests.
Against all this, a man surged. His name was Francis of Assisi (1182–1226) and he perfectly understood the root cause of the corruption: money. In Francis’s view, money was the “Devil’s Dung” and neither himself nor his followers would touch it.
It was a bold plan to reform the Church from the inside. The impact of Francis was enormous on his contemporaries, so much that we still remember him and love him. But, ultimately, he and his followers failed. Money is a truly powerful demon.
In 1517, two centuries after Francis, things came to a head when Pope Leo X authorized the sale of indulgences in Germany. Selling salvation for money was too much, and it was then that Martin Luther nailed the text of his 95 theses on the door of a church in Wittemberg. It was the start of the decline of the “Catholic” (“universal”) Church that ceased to be universal at that time. It survived for a few centuries as a regional Church until it was replaced with scientism as the founding myth of the Western world. The decline seems to be complete nowadays with empty churches and bewildered flocks, terrorized by TV scientists predicting doom for them. It is the triumph of scientism.
But things never stand still, cycles are always ongoing, and the triumph of scientism already shows signs of decline. Science is corrupted from inside by the same demon that corrupted the Church in the late Middle Ages: money.
It is a tall order that of reforming such a huge and entrenched organization as science is nowadays, but for everything there comes the day of reckoning; redde rationem villicationis tuae: iam enim non poteris villicare. (Luke, 16:2)
So, we need to reform science to turn it from a support for the oppression of humankind to what it was at the beginning: “natural philosophy,” which means “love for the knowledge of the natural world,” not “knowledge for destroying the natural world” as it is understood in the “scientism” paradigm. In short, we need a human science, otherwise it is not science.
In the following, a post by Luisella Chiavenuto who perfectly understands these points and describes them in detail. It is not impossible to reform science and see its rebirth in a new form.
The Paradigm of Scientism and Complexity
By Luisella Chiavenuto — Translated and condensed from “Umanesimo e Scienza”
We live in a period of rapid change and redefinition of any kind of identity, including scientific identity. It is no longer just a matter of a normal scientific debate (which has become more and more impossible) but of a real internal split in Science.
The scientism paradigm was based on the research of domination over nature — and more and more on its reprogramming, according to the interests of humanity — for a certain period has improved the conditions of life.
Then the trend reversal started. And now the main planetary problems are caused and aggravated by the current techno-scientific model that reached the height of its power and at the same time the peak of its unsustainability, in every sector.
A model in which almost all of what we call “Science” is merged with technology and economy — so as to be inseparable in every aspect. And the large transnational corporations are dominated by the transversal power of the IT corporation.
It is a model in which the war against “the human” — and within the human psyche — tends to replace the physical war. The planetary battlefield is now our feelings and our cognitive — and epistemological — patterns.
However, there is also a new, emerging model based on a radically different scientific and cultural paradigm that proposes a science capable of self-criticism, and a technology that is more humble and friendly to the Nature that sustains us — and to our own human nature from which we are constituted.
The clash between different scientific models
The two models, the dominant and the emerging one, thus give rise to two different scientific methods — based in turn on two different worldviews and visions of the knowledge process.
In the case of the dominant paradigm, scientism, knowledge derives from an exclusive use of scientific rationality, which considers truth preeminently, if not exclusively, only that which is “measurable,” and to be pursued only what is conveyed by increasingly powerful technologies, with immediate and sectorial effectiveness and whose negative effects at a distance of time and space are not — in principle — taken into account,
The philosophy on which this type of science is based is declaredly neo-Scientism, therefore for certain important aspects, it is in relation of continuity with the Cartesian paradigm. The interpretative metaphor adopted is that of the world seen as a network of computers interconnected and guided by the computational cognitive model — within a technocratic and reductionist conception of the concept of “system”.
This model of science is proposed as an exclusive model, based on the principle of established authority, i.e. the major international and local scientific institutions — within which, however, there are also different positions, although marginal ones.
In the case of the emerging paradigm, on the other hand, scientific rationality becomes one of the possible cognitive dimensions — assumed, therefore, not to impose themselves, but to integrate harmoniously with the other cognitive faculties from which we are constituted: the historical and social dimension (historical experience, philosophies, social disciplines …) and the symbolic dimension (art, music, literature, spirituality …)
The philosophy at the base of this emerging paradigm can be defined as a vision of reality based on the concept of complexity of unlimitedly stratified interconnected systems. The interpretative metaphor is that of the world seen as a living organism, in which each element is constitutively connected and interdependent on the others.
It is a vision that leads to the concept of symbiont, which means forms of life not only physically associated, but that evolve together in a co-evolution. The concept of phylogenetic symbiont in turn leads to the concept of holistic symbiont — with infinite levels of stratification, in turn, included in a universal Totality.
This model of science is proposed as an inclusive model, based on the principle of freedom of thought — It also includes the Dominant Paradigm, but in a relativized form, that is subjected to radical critical revision and placed within a wider conceptual framework.
The dynamics of the paradigms
In synthesis, we can say that we are seeing a clash between the scientism paradigm and the paradigm of complexity. Of course, these are abstract concepts, useful for orientation. Moreover, they must be considered as “paradigms” by their very nature composed of different elements: only the combination of these elements — and of their historical roots — can provide a valid criterion of judgment.
In particular, the concept of “System” is very important for both paradigms, but it is conceived and developed in a very different way. This is due mainly because the two paradigms have origin from cognitive models so different that they can be defined as substantially opposite to each other. But the boundaries between these paradigms are never traced in a clear-cut stable way.
Rather, they are osmotic, contradictory, and fragmented processes that unfold over time, giving rise to a “dynamic of paradigms “ taking place simultaneously on a historical scale and on an individual scale, that is, in the realm of the personal psyche. Finally, and increasingly frequently, the keywords of the scientific and political debate undergo a process of mimicry, through which their meaning is turned upside down.
Sometimes this reversal occurs through the deliberate use of advertising techniques — sometimes it is the result of a confusion of thought. The line between the two is blurred, and often very blurred.
The Current Crisis
In this period, we have witnessed an epochal nemesis of the enlightenment reason. With a unilateral and unrestrained development, technoscience has definitively reversed itself into its opposite: an obfuscation and a radical repudiation of rationality itself. Having severed any link with the complexity of life, this approach becomes structurally obtuse.
A good fraction of the political and economical sectors make use of this obfuscation of reason by using the crisis and the implosion of scientific thought for power purposes — or sometimes of declared impotence. In turn, they feed a market of technological products in which the military and civilian sectors are structurally intertwined, as it was from the beginning. Every macro-economic sector is by now structurally interwoven — and dominated — by the companies that manage the backbone of IT tools. (The new era of epistemic dominance).
The information corporation, being a network of power transversal to all the great corporations (energy, financial, material, cognitive, and media) — unifies them and allows similar cultural and political lines shared on a planetary scale. These convergent choices occur both through deliberate and centralized public decisions — and through processes of involuntary “systemic” automatism, parceled out and not made explicit.
State Science, therefore, proposes solutions that are dead ends. That is, it imposes a framing in hyper-sectorial complications, deadly for the social, economic, and ecological fabric — and for the human psyche. This framing is deadly for the very concept of humankind and civilization, because
- through the practice of misdirection/distancing/masking — is eroded at the root of the bond of mutual trust between people, which is the foundation of the human interaction.
Moreover, the pact of trust between citizens and institutions is also eroded, because with the health passport, and the like, it is established that basic human rights are granted only to those who accept the decisions of the State, which can suspend human rights on the basis of health conditions (all sick until proven otherwise) and behavior in the most personal choices (denying the freedom of care — and so the way is paved for any subsequent abuse).
For over a year now, the State has been heavily entering the private and emotional life, the choices of the most intimate sphere and the very body of all people, without limits and without counter-balances. Hence, also, the need to resort to a surrogate of religious faith — in science and in vaccine miracles — to be able to support what is not sustainable with a reasonable use of reason.
Moreover, all the premises (scientific, legal, and customary) remain in place for the same model of management of the epidemic to be proposed again at the seasonal resumption of variants, or other threats. Finally, this approach seems destined to become the basic political-scientific model, usable in its basic lines to face all emergencies.
So not only the upcoming health threats but also the climate emergency, much more impressive and complex, — as well as the crises of energy and food resources, also related to overpopulation — and caused by an economic model centered on the destruction of essential resources: land, air, water, and natural and social ecosystems. A model that imposes the massive increase of every technology in every field.
The suspension of human and constitutional rights, increasing computer control for political purposes (Chinese style social control), and the dehumanization of life, in every field. That is the New Normal, presented, and believed by many, as an inevitable choice. But, in addition to confusion, in this madness, there is also a method, whose paradigmatic constants can be recognized.
Recognizing this method can help us understand (in part) why the vast majority of the scientific, academic, and intellectual world has adhered to an irrational and failed description and management of the pandemic.
The Knowledge Process
In this context, the “Humanism and Science” website — and the related Association — propose to use the strong and difficult energy released by the crises, directing it towards a new culture of complexity,
through a dialogue — self-critical and integrative — between science and humanism.
In a similar way, an integration between the different dimensions and cognitive languages from which we are constituted as individuals has also sought: the rational dimension, the historical-social dimension, and the symbolic dimension.
This progressive integration can lead to qualitative leaps, to changes of great intensity in personal and collective life. (Of course, the interaction described here is only a “method”, and as such can have different outcomes, depending on the purposes and the general vision of those who practice it).
In this site, we deal with ideas, art, and music: not to create entertainment but on the contrary to look for creative interaction, a mutual influence that brings depth, beauty, and harmony in the process of research and knowledge — both personal and collective.
The basic orientation can be condensed into Dostoyevsky’s phrase: “Beauty will save the world”. Remembering also the meaning of the word “beauty” in ancient Greek: kalòs, which means at the same time “Beautiful, True, Good”.
It is an orientation that, however, does not forget the ambivalence of Nature, with its dual aspect of “mother and stepmother”. Awareness of the seriousness of systemic breakdowns — both ongoing and future — can, however, join with a vision of life that is not exhausted within what we commonly define as “physical reality.”
In turn, this shift may imply a Metanoia, or even a “repentance,” not in the superficially moralistic sense, but in the etymological meaning of the terms: a profound change of thought, of concrete life, of vision of the world and of oneself — a change provoked by restlessness, by pain, and by a crisis with no apparent way out — but also provoked and sustained by an intuition of happiness and intensity of life, presented as real and endowed with intrinsic truth.
In order to identify this kind of truth, one can resort to a concept that is often misrepresented in its original meaning, and which can be summarized by the word “Transcendence” — in a meaning that does not devalue immanence, but rather includes it in a more infinite and indefinable horizon.
The Evaluation of Time
With this horizon open to the dynamics of different cultural paradigms, one can understand the fascinating complexity and the (critical and self-critical) encounter between humanistic culture and scientific culture. And the necessity of such an encounter to illuminate with a new light, and at the same time an ancient one, the ethical choices to which we are called. Dramatic choices that seem to lack, literally, a ground on which to base themselves.
In fact, the scientism ideology is based on the devaluation of the past — in the name of the magnificent fates and progressions of Technoscience, capable of solving all problems by increasing its power. In this way, it implements a split from the past, closing itself to the possibility of learning from historical experience. That is, it precludes the possibility of seriously understanding our cultural roots — through a revision that is critical, but — even before being critical — capable of studying and grasping their deepest meaning.
The result of this split (which is also a split from our deepest psyche) is the present poverty in cultural and human depth, radically alien to any form of charm, beauty and depth. The foreshadowing of the future is thus delegated, mainly, to the literary genre of science fiction — in which the technical power of reshaping nature usually appears as a nightmare, or at least an obligatory solution, and in turn the generator of new and greater nightmares.
However, in the immediate future, technoscience offers ephemeral solutions of “safety,” and its social consensus on that.
The Ideological side
Scientism as an ideology is proposed as a faith that often borders on the religious exaltation of man’s power over life, a substitute that fills the void left by traditional religions — a form of “fundamentalist” exaltation — blind to any warning of the Nemesis in action.
But the collapse of intellectual and ethical credibility of the Scientism ideology causes a consequent strengthening of its authoritarianism, even if it coexists with a strand of theories and practices, including neuro-technologies, self-declared as having a “democratic” purpose).
In the Emerging Paradigm, instead, the past-future opposition is overcome, and the intimate link between the past and the future is grasped, both on the level of ideas, and on the wider, life-giving human level. This link can also be defined as a sense of “nostalgia”. Nostalgia for the past combined with nostalgia for the future, that is, desire and hope.
These are much more than just feelings: they are powerful archetypes. endowed with great creative energy — indispensable for a life that is not mere survival of the body, and for this reason constantly on the verge of suicide for lack of horizons and meaning.
“… I was a fireplace, inhabited by flame.
Invaded by a subdued and burning joy.
I was not just a stone fireplace,
but a messenger
Of lost Confidence.
A messenger of the indefinite Hope
That abandoned in the smoke, rises …
Wounded and powerful in its pain,
rises to cover the roofs
and the distant rocks… “
- Plato “Dialogues”
- F. Capra “The Turning Point” — T. Kuhn “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”.
- U. Bardi “Seneca Effect” “Who is the Emperor of the World?
The new era of the epistemic dominion”