The Limits of Human Science


In an attempt to carry on a dialogue with the scientific empiricists among us, I would humbly like to submit a few thoughts and arguments about what I perceive to be the limitations of science and the scientific method. This is not necessarily intended to be an argument in favor of religion or mysticism – only an attempt to question the degree to which some of us, paradoxically, put our absolute faith in scientific knowledge, to the exclusion of anything else. Nor is this intended to question the validity of the scientific method – it’s really about questioning some of the basic assumptions we make about science.

One of the basic steps in the scientific method is “observation”. Empirical science is entirely predicated on observation, as it is the first step in the process, followed by the steps of “analysis” and “inference”. Newton, for example, developed his laws of motion when he observed an apple falling from a tree, as the legend goes, which is an anecdotal way of pointing out that, essentially, Newton’s laws of motion reflect his rational explanation, in the language of Mathematics, of the behavior of physical objects in the observed universe – the key point being that it is a rationalization (i.e. mathematical explanation) of observations.

Einstein added a unique twist to the scientific method in that he often worked from what he called “thought experiments”. Einstein was also a major proponent of the role of the imagination in science, which was a significant departure from the scientific method preceding him – much more driven by empiricism, i.e. experiment and observation. The scientific method, as it stands today appears to follow an iterative paradigm in which we have such steps as “Think of Interesting Questions” and “Formulate Hypotheses”, etc. However, it still appears to be fundamentally predicated on the apparently all-important step of “Making Observations”.

Now here’s the thing about making observations – they are essentially subjective. Every scientific observation ever made on record has been made by a human being with five senses and with a uniquely human point of view. It might be argued that scientific instruments provide us with a more objective means of observing reality, but let’s keep in mind that every scientific instrument ever built was designed and built by human beings with five senses (or by machines designed and built by similar human beings) and intended to be read by other human beings with five senses. Thus, in design, architecture and interface, every scientific instrument ever built essentially serves and reinforces the human five-sensory perception of reality. Einstein’s approach of deploying the creative imagination lends his theoretical work a uniquely original, out-of-the-box perspective. Nevertheless, in order to be accepted as mainstream science, Einstein’s theories had to be subjected to mathematical elaboration and empirical validation (by means of scientific experiments and instruments designed by human beings with a five-sensory perspective on reality).

Following Einstein’s example, if we allow our imagination to take flight, at this stage, and conduct a small thought experiment … let’s imagine that somewhere in our vast universe there is an intelligent alien life form of some sort – a silicon-based life-form, for argument’s sake, with eleven senses, three hearts and five brains operating in parallel, like nodes in a computer server cluster. In other words, a life form as far removed from our own as we can imagine. Let’s imagine that they eat raw sand and other silicates for breakfast and that they can see a different range of electromagnetic frequencies than we human beings can (e.g. radio frequencies, UV frequencies, etc.) and hear a different range of audio frequencies than we can, much like bats, for example. Let’s even imagine that their sense of touch is not “in tune” with ours, so that they might be able to walk through walls or on water. Would the perception and experience of reality of such an alien being be remotely similar to our own? Of course not. Therefore, would their observation of nature be remotely in sync with our own? Obviously not.

If, therefore, this alien being had a profoundly different observational experience of reality than our own, and if, as we understand, observation is the integral step in the scientific method, does it not follow that any science developed by this alien intelligence would have absolutely no correlation or similarity with our own concept of science? Is it not reasonable to suppose that this alien science would be fundamentally different from what we must now term “human science” – different in ways that we cannot possibly imagine? Indeed, it may be the case that not only will an alien intelligence arrive at different physical principles than our own, based on their very different observation of reality, but, in my opinion, we cannot even be sure that the mathematical systems they develop will have any correlation with our own. We would tend to suppose that 2+2=4 is a universal fact, but can we be sure of that? Unless we happen to encounter an alien intelligence that corroborates that as a universal fact, we cannot be absolutely certain – it remains an assumption.

If we then conclude that our present understanding of “human science” is limited by our five-sensory experience of reality, and if, one day, we happened to develop a sixth sense, out of the blue, is it not possible that our new perspective of reality, afforded to us now by our six senses, might render all of existing human science as simplistic or incomplete or even, possibly, deeply flawed in some way that we now cannot fathom in our five-sensory state? In which case, how can we have any clue that what we now consider to be indisputable fact is not utterly absurd from a more enlightened point of view, even as the Renaissance theory of the bodily humors or the Medieval ideas about medicinal blood-letting are from our post-modern point of view?

Thus, if we consider any of the so-called “conspiracy theories” or “mystical ideas” out there, such as Deepak Chopra’s ideas about alternative healing or David Icke’s theory that the moon might be an artificial satellite or Masaru Emoto’s ideas on the effect of human consciousness on the crystalline structure of water – are we justified in claiming that such ideas contradict modern science? Isn’t it more accurate to state that such ideas contradict human science as we currently understand it – in its current stage of development? Does that invalidate these alternative ideas or render them inaccurate? Surely not! Unless and until we can find solid evidence definitively to demonstrate the fallacy of such ideas, we must at least concede that they are possible, however improbable we may consider them to be. And even if we do find the evidence to refute any of these ideas, how can we be certain that we are not misreading or misinterpreting the evidence or the idea?

Given all of these considerations, is it reasonable for some of us to assert that our current understanding of modern science gives us the right and ability to ridicule any ideas that may seem to be absurd from the modern scientific perspective? Or should we not, at least, try to be more open-minded and accepting of apparently unconventional ideas, considering that some of them may have the potential to be enormously beneficial to humankind?

In Defense of “Conspiracy Theories”

Let’s imagine living in Soviet Russia during the 1960’s – the height of the Cold War – and let’s imagine that the KGB used the Russian phrase teoriya zagorova to signal to the Soviet public that certain ideas, beliefs and sources of information were to be marginalized, even shunned – how would you, as a literate adult in the 21st Century look upon those ideas and information? I think the rational response would be to take a closer look at them, for the simple reason that the Soviet-era KGB (or, for that matter, the SVR, the contemporary Russian intelligence agency) is not, by any reasonable measure, to be regarded as a reliable source of public information.

Now, let’s flashback to November 22, 1963 – the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, commonly believed to have been perpetrated by a lone, crazed assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, from the Texas School Book Depository. This was the official version of events propagated by the mainstream press of the time. However, since then, a small group of out-of-the-box thinkers, based upon significant evidence – as publicized, most famously, in the Oliver Stone film JFK – began to suggest that the Kennedy assassination was not as it had been made out to be in the mainstream press. There may have been other shooters involved, most notably a shooter from behind the so-called “grassy knoll”, while Lee Harvey Oswald may, in fact, have been a CIA operative, and the assassination itself may have been orchestrated by former CIA chief and notorious Nazi sympathizer, Allen Dulles. Well, FSU professor Lance deHaven-Smith, in his 2013 book Conspiracy Theory in America (as cited on Wikipedia), alleges that the CIA “deployed” the usage of the phrase conspiracy theory in the 1960’s in order to discredit such alternative speculation about the Kennedy assassination, and this became the first widespread usage of the term as we understand it today.

What does this historical background about the origin of the modern colloquial usage of the phrase conspiracy theory suggest to the rational adult living in the 21st century? I guess it depends on how much credence one gives to the CIA, as a reliable source of public information – the CIA, one of whose stated objectives is the perpetuation of disinformation, especially with respect to the perceived enemies of the United States! One would have to be gullible indeed, if not utterly deluded, to take the CIA’s word at face value! For the same reason that no rational adult living in the modern world would take the KGB’s or SVR’s word at face value – because these are state-run intelligence agencies for whom deception and disinformation is standard operating procedure!

And yet, somehow, against all sense and reason, the term conspiracy theory has entered common usage as a label with which to discredit and marginalize any information or idea that happens to conflict with or challenge the widely accepted mainstream, institutional interpretation of reality. No doubt, if Galileo or Kepler had introduced their theories about heliocentrism and elliptical planetary orbits in this day and age, the CIA would label them as conspiracy theories, even as the Catholic Church of the 16th century declared them as heretical ideas at the time! The phrase “conspiracy theory” is, in effect, the modern equivalent of the Medieval “heresy” – both are basically ways of flagging certain ideas or information as unacceptable, even threatening, to the establishment. It is the establishment’s way of marginalizing and discrediting any form of knowledge that may threaten its hold over the public imagination.

This is not to suggest that every idea in the realm of the conspiracy theory must, at once, be taken seriously. No doubt, there are many ideas in that domain that have no rational basis or justification, and must, therefore, be considered to be irrational, pending the disclosure of additional supporting evidence! However, it does imply that any idea, however far-fetched or outrageous it may seem to be at first glance, should be assessed on its own merits and on the evidence supporting the claims made. Not because some mainstream institution happens to dismissively label it as a “conspiracy theory” without any serious consideration of the case to be made in support of the claims. Anything less than this essentially amounts to surrendering one’s rational faculties to the self-appointed wardens of taste in our society, many of whom have no more than a grade-school understanding of the facts in question, and certainly are lacking in the specialized knowledge necessary to make sense of them.

An excellent example is the theory, posited by the well-known “conspiracy theorist” David Icke, that the universe is constituted of wave-form energy and that our perception of the solidity of matter is, in fact, a trick of the senses. The immediate, reflexive response of most of us in mainstream society, conditioned as we are by mass media and a simplistic grade-school understanding of Newtonian Physics, would be to roll our eyes and murmur the words “conspiracy theory.” And yet, this idea is substantiated by modern experimental quantum mechanics – wave-particle duality as demonstrated in the well-established “double-slit experiment” – that clearly points to the possibility that all matter is, at its core, wave-form energy, and that electromagnetic energy waves double as material particles upon the intervention of a conscious observer. Similar themes have been expressed by such brilliant minds as Einstein and Planck. Unless one is aware of this background into theoretical and experimental Physics, one would not be in a position to adequately form an informed opinion on what the mass of uninformed humanity might dismiss as a “conspiracy theory.”

As such, the least one can do is to give such ideas a fair hearing, because, who knows? It may not be so far-fetched after all to suggest, for example, that the Bushes and Clintons are involved in narcotics and human trafficking and child abuse, or that the Rockefellers conspired with the Nazis to suppress the healing Solfeggio frequencies. Without a clear knowledge and understanding of the evidence and the case to be made, are we in a position to adjudicate on the credibility of these ideas?