The Reenchantment of
1981. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY.. ISBN-10 0801-492254
At least in theory, the reference points for all scientific explanation are matter and motion - what historians of science refer to as the "mechanical philosophy."
Scientific consciousness is alienated consciousness: there is no ecstatic merger with nature, but rather total separation from it.
The worker is not buying goods because he identifies with the American Way of Life, but because he has enormous anxiety about his self, which he feels possessions might assuage.
… for most males in the industrial nations, the sex act itself has literally become a project, a matter of carrying out the proper techniques so as to achieve the prescribed goal and thus win the desired approval. Pleasure and intimacy are seen almost as a hindrance to the act.
For Plato sense data were at best a distraction from knowledge, which was the province of unaided reason. For Aristotle, knowledge consisted in generalizations, but these were derived in the first instance from information gathered from the outside world. These two models of thinking, termed rationalism and empiricism respectively, formed the major intellectual legacy of the West down to Descartes and Bacon, who represented, in the seventeenth century, the twin poles of epistemology.
So long as men were content to ask why objects fell, why phenomena occurred, the question of how they fell or occurred was irrelevant … In the twentieth century, as we shall see, "how" has become our "why".
The essence of atomism, whether material or philosophical, is that a thing consists of the sum of its parts, no more and no less.
If a phenomenon is not measurable, it can "have no place in experimental philosophy." This philosophical position, in its various forms called "positivism", has been the public face of modern science down to the present day.
The sociologist Peter Berger was correct when he said that ideas "do not succeed in history by virtue of their truth but by virtue of their relationships to specific social processes." Scientific ideas are no exception.
It will be necessary, therefore, to look at science as a system of thought adequate to a certain historical epoch; to try to separate ourselves from the common impression that it is an absolute, transcultural truth.
The notion of progress and the sense that activity is cumulative characterize the world view of early modern Europe.
In a society that was coming to regard the world as one big arithmetic problem, the notion that there existed a sacred relationship between the individual and the cosmos seemed increasingly dubious.
Much has been made of the refusal of the College of Cardinals to look through Galileo's telescope, to see the moons of Jupiter and the craters of on the surface of the moon. In fact, this refusal cannot be ascribed to the simple obstinacy or fear of truth. In the context of the time, the use of a device crafted by artisans to solve a scientific (let alone theological) controversy was considered, especially in Italy, to be an incomprehensible scrambling of categories. These two activities, the pursuit of the truth and the manufacture of goods, were totally disparate, particularly in terms of the social class associated with each.
… Galileo had a very practical approach to such investigations (actually, an engineering approach), and that his method explicitly involved distancing himself from nature in order to grasp it more carefully - an approach that I have called nonparticipating consciousness.
The hallmark of modern consciousness is that it recognizes no element of mind in the so-called inert objects that surround us. The whole materialist position, in fact, assumes the existence of a world "out there" independent of human thought, which is "in here".
… in the course of their work alchemists practiced a number of techniques that can produce these altered psychic states: meditation, fasting, yogic or "embryonic" breathing, and sometimes the chanting of mantras. These techniques have been practiced for millennia, especially in Asia, for the express purpose (in our terms) of breaking down the divide between the conscious and the unconscious parts of the mind. They strip the person of mundane desires, enabling him to penetrate another dimension of reality; and as Western science is just beginning to discover, they are certainly efficacious in physiological terms, especially if we adopt the (to me, quite reasonable) position that soul is another name for what the body does. It is easy to assume that the psychic aspect is the reality, and the material aspect deluded or irrelevant.
The alchemist is thus like a miner, probing deeper and deeper veins of ore. One vein leads to another, there is no right answer. Life, and human personality, are inherently crazy, multifaceted; neurosis is the inability to tolerate this fact.
… modern science, with the significant exception of quantum mechanics, does not regard the gestalt of matter/motion/experiment/quantification as a metaphor for reality; it regards it as the touchstone of reality.
[Michael] Polanyi's major thesis is that in attributing truth to any methodology we make a nonrational commitment; in effect, we perform an act of faith. He demonstrates that the coherence possessed by any thought system is not a criterion of truth, but "only a criterion of stability. It may equally stabilize an erroneous or a true view of the universe. The attribution of truth to any particular stable alternative is a fiduciary act which cannot be analysed in non-commital terms."
Any articulated world view, in fact, is the result of unconscious factors that have been culturally filtered and influenced, and is thus to some extent radically disparate from any other world view.
Rationality, as it turns out, begins to play a role only after the knowledge has been obtained viscerally. Once the terrain is familiar, we reflect on how we got the facts and establish the methodological categories.
… what constitutes knowledge is therefore merely the findings of an agreed-up methodology, and the facts that science finds are merely that - facts that science finds; they possess no meaning in and of themselves. Science is generated from the tacit knowing and subsidiary awareness peculiar to Western culture, and it proceeds to construct the world in those particular terms. If it is true that we create our reality, it is nevertheless a creation that proceeds in accordance with very definite rules - rules that are largely hidden from conscious view.
That there is something material out there, existing independently of us, would be useless to deny; that we are in a systemic or ecological relationship with it, unknowingly permeate and alter it with our own unconscious, and thus find in it what we seek, should be equally useless to deny.
… a systemic or ecological approach to nature would have as its premise the inclusion of the knower in the known. It would entail an official rejection of the present nonparticipating ideology, and an acceptance of the notion that we investigate not a collection of discrete entities confronting our minds (Minds), but the relationship between what has up to now been called "subject" and "object."
When the Indian does a rain dance, for example, he is not assuming an automatic response. There is no failed technology here, rather, he is inviting the clouds to join him, to respond to the invocation. He is, in effect, asking to make love to them, and like any normal lover they may or may not be in the mood. This is the way nature works. By means of this approach, the native learns about the reality of the situation, the moods of the earth and the skies. He surrenders: mimesis, participation, orgastic gratification. Western technology, on the other hand, seeds the clouds by airplane. It takes nature by force, "masters" it, has no time for mood or subtlety, and thus, along with the rain, we get noise, pollution, and the potential disruption of the ozone layer.
… one biomedical researcher has suggested that the brain is not the source of thought but a thought amplifier; that knowledge originates not in the brain but in the body, and the brain simply magnifies and organizes it.
[Susanne Langer] … the crucial changes in philosophy are not changes in the answers to traditional questions, but changes in the questions that are asked. "It is the mode of handling problems, rather than what they are about, that assigns them to an age." A new key in philosophy does not solve the old questions; it rejects them.
Langer has articulated the essence of our problem. We do not need a new solution to the mind/body problem, or a new way of viewing the subject/object relationship. We need to deny that such distinctions exist, and once done, to formulate a new set of scientific questions based on a new modality.
It is now abundantly clear that we are part of any experiment, that the act of investigation alters the knowledge obtained, and that given this situation, any attempt to know all of nature through a unit-by-unit analysis of its "components" is very much a delusion. A question such as "What is light?" can have only one answer in a post-Cartesian world: "That question has no meaning." How should we study (i.e., participate) nature? What questions should we ask?
If reality frightens you, Max Weber once remarked, the religion of your fathers is always there to welcome you back into its loving arms. The problem with these mystical or occult philosophies is that they share what Susanne Langer has cited as the key problem of all nondiscursive thought systems: they wind up dispensing with thought altogether.
Any system that maximizes certain variables, violating the natural steady-state conditions that would optimize these variables, is by definition in runaway, and ultimately, it has no more chance of survival than an alcoholic or steam engine without a governor. Unless such a system abandons its epistemology, it will hit bottom or burn out - a realization that is now dawning on many individuals in Western society.
If you fight the ecology of a system, you lose - especially when you "win".
Perhaps we need to be much more radical in the explanatory hypotheses considered than we have allowed ourselves to be heretofore. Possibly the world of external facts is much more fertile and plastic than we have ventured to suppose; it may be that all these cosmologies and many more analyses and classifications are genuine ways of arranging what nature offers to our understanding, and that the main condition determining our selection between them is something in us rather something in the external world.
Our social sciences generally treat the culture and knowledge of other peoples as forms and structures necessary for human life that those people have developed and imposed upon a reality which we know - or at least our scientists know - better than they do. We can therefore study those forms in relation to "reality" and measure how well or ill they are adapted to it. In their studies of the cultures of other people, even those anthropologists who sincerely love the people they study almost never think that they are learning something about the way the world really is. Rather, they conceive of themselves as finding out what other people's conceptions of the world are.
What we observe is not nature in itself but nature exposed to our method of questioning.
A well-ordered humanism does not begin with itself, but puts things back in their place. It puts the world before life, life before man, and the respect of others before love of self. This is the lesson that the people we call "savages" teach us: a lesson of modesty, decency, and discretion in the face of a world that preceded our species and that will survive it.
A structuring of the world in so absolutist a manner that every event, the closest and the most remote, fits neatly into an imaginary system has been called a symptom of illness, especially when others refuse to join in the grand obsessive design. It was [Isaac] Newton's fortune that a large portion of his total system was acceptable to European society as a perfect representation of reality, and his name was attached to the age.
All the errors and follies of magic, religion, and mystical traditions are outweighed by the one great wisdom they contain - the awareness of humanity's organic embeddedness in a complex and natural system.