One of our most brilliant social critics—author of the bestselling The Middle Mind—presents a scathing critique of the “delusions” of science alongside a rousing defense of the tradition of Romanticism and the “big” questions.
With the rise of religion critics such as Richard Dawkins, and of pseudo-science advocates such as Malcolm Gladwell and Jonah Lehrer, you’re likely to become a subject of ridicule if you wonder “Why is there something instead of nothing?” or “What is our purpose on earth?” Instead, at universities around the world, and in the general cultural milieu, we’re all being taught that science can resolve all questions without the help of philosophy, politics, or the humanities.
In short, the rich philosophical debates of the 19th century have been nearly totally abandoned, argues critic Curtis White. An atheist himself, White nonetheless calls this new turn “scientism”—and fears what it will do to our culture if allowed to flourish without challenge. In fact, in “scientism” White sees a new religion with many unexamined assumptions.
In this brilliant multi-part critique, he aims at a TED talk by a distinguished neuroscientist in which we are told that human thought is merely the product of our “connectome,” a map of neural connections in the brain that is yet to be fully understood. . . . He whips a widely respected physicist who argues that our new understanding of the origins of the universe obviates any philosophical inquiry . . . and ends with a learned defense of the tradition of Romanticism, which White believes our technology and science-obsessed world desperately needs to rediscover.
It’s the only way, he argues, that we can see our world clearly. . . and change it.
Novelist and critic White (The Middle Mind) outlines his concerns about reductionist "scientism" that seeks to explain the human mind as a machine at the expense of a great philosophical tradition. It's a hit-or-miss polemic that's as erudite in its explications of Romantic German Idealism as it is woeful in its grasp of contemporary biology or cognitive science. He rightfully takes Stephen Hawking and Lawrence Krauss to task for their assertions that "philosophy is dead", and laments Official Science's classism and collusion with state and corporate power. Other deserved targets of White's ire include Jonah Lehrer, Sebastian Seung, and TED's Rand-ian "Silicon Valley politics". Unfortunately, White doesn't separate the scientific process from its practitioners (particularly with regard to morality) and levels ad-hominem attacks at Richard Dawkins instead of critiquing him on his scientific work. Nevertheless, his secular solution to the problem of corporatist science's sanitizing of creativity and counterculture is an embrace of Romanticism, and he advises looking to the teachings of philosophers like Friedrich Schelling and scientists like Morse Peckham and Jacob Bronowski for "what science is mostly clueless about: how we ought to live." Though slightly off-target, White's argument is worth consideration and his delivery passionate and humorously bitter.
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I have no problem with skepticism, in fact, I encourage it. But this book reads as though I'm being reminded on how to use "Transitional Phrases" in basic college writing. Does not do skepticism any just.