Science and other forms of knowledge: Missing the point about the conflict

In “Science Cannot Fully Describe Reality, Says Templeton Prize Winner” (Science 16 March 2009), David Lindley profiles French physicist and Templeton winner Bernard d'Espagnat, 87:

Quantum mechanics allows what d'Espagnat calls "weak objectivity," in that it predicts probabilities of observable phenomena in an indisputable way. But the inherent uncertainty of quantum measurements means that it is impossible to infer an unambiguous description of "reality as it really is," he says. He has proposed that behind measured phenomena exists what he calls a "veiled reality" that genuinely exists, independently of us, even though we lack the ability to fully describe it.

Asked whether that entails a kind of mysticism, d'Espagnat responds that "science isn't everything" and that we are already accustomed to the idea that "when we hear beautiful music, or see paintings, or read poetry, [we get] a faint glimpse of a reality that underlies empirical reality." In the possibility of a veiled reality that is perceived in different and fragmentary ways through science, art, and spirituality, d'Espagnat also sees, perhaps, a way to reconcile the apparently conflicting visions of reality that science and religion provide.

The trouble is, putting it that way whitewashes the problem: Science, if represented, for example, by Darwinism or the current decade’s End of All Things At Hand!, is a form of false knowledge, not of fragmentary knowledge. Indeed, these schemes are anything but fragmentary; they are totalistic.

The real challenge today is not, as thinkers of d’Espagnat’s generation have tended to suppose, finding a use for poetry in providing us with meaningful information. It is, how do we get state-enforced false knowledge, decked out as science, out of our lives?

For example, when we have rid ourselves of Darwinism and its idiot child, evolutionary psychology, poetry can take care of itself.

Denyse O'Leary is co-author of The Spiritual Brain.

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