Sunday, February 04, 2007

Do You Really Want To Live Beyond Freedom And Dignity?

Posted by olvlzl.
You’ll be glad to know I’m not going to go into detail today. If you’ve read enough of what I’ve posted you'll know I don’t buy large swaths of the social and behavioral sciences. Among other things that make me a heretic is that they come up with entirely new systems just slightly less often than Microsoft. And in between new systems, theirs don’t even work that well. Thus the title. They patch together a gamma version and try to sail it into a grand unified theory of the mind.

At the end of the first discussion thread begun last Saturday, a very reasonable skeptic of what I had said mentioned that Susan Blackmore, in her book about “the meme”, claimed that they potentially negated free will. I haven’t read the book myself but it doesn’t surprise me, having read Blackmore on other topics. Since the beginning social and behavioral scientists have tried to fix their sights on freedom of thought. They’ve gotten off some shots but they never even fixed a bead on it.

Since free will is free, if it exists, why would scientists of any kind expect to be able to pin it down for study and classification? To do that “free will” would have to be one stable thing like a species or the member of an element family. It would have to be or its presence within either an experiment or model could never be reliably known.* It would have to be bounded tightly enough for it to not be free.

It is possible for the large majority, or, concievably, every last person, to freely will the same thing and something like that might show up in some experiment or study. If that was the case then the free will nature of it might be entirely invisible. Sometimes free will could be expressed in the outlyers that get pitched. If it exists there is every reason to expect that it would entirely elude even the most exact and careful science. I am confident that free will, by definition, could not enter into scientific study. Being too arrogant to acknowledge this limit, these less than rigorous people just declare that it can’t exist.

I don’t know if free will exists but either way, there’s not much that can be done about it. I think that the assumption that it doesn’t exist carries the danger of the kind of tyranny that some have always seen as a glint in the eyes of some mad psychiatrists, social scientists, and psychoanalysts as well as despots of every flavor.

It’s not that I fear a dictatorship of social scientists. The picture that I have of most of them is more like John Water’s deprogrammer in Hair Spray than Brave New World. Outside of an insufficiently regulated state hospital, it’s a wonder that some of them can run even a lab.**

What I really fear is that the general public will buy their line and decide that freedom is a myth, just as too many have bought the one that we are all selfish swine. A public which doesn’t have any faith in freedom won’t exert themselves to keep it and will go spend their time on trivial pursuits. Looking at our over indoctrinated educated class, that could already be one of the real life influences of these so-called scientists. They’ve already given up dignity in too many cases. That’s why I really don’t like the present regime in the social and behavioral sciences. It’s not just because they claim to know as fact what they, in fact, only believe and want to believe.

* The reason that both the pro and con of those “prayer studies” were bogus.

**I’m told that students of biology are often disgusted with the way that psych departments take care of their lab animals. It’s students of biology who have told me this, though, just to keep this honest.

Coda: In Which olvlzl bows to a preponderance of the evidence.

I’ve been going back through various comment threads I’ve participated in, counting the times that someone has asked me, “Do you know how stupid you sound when you....”.

Just counting, clearly not.

Reification and conflation are the two original sins of the social sciences, they haven't yet had a savior who was able to expunge them of it. I think those sins, like the more traditional ones in real life, are based in personal ambition, pride and the kind of career building dishonesty that pervades our 'life of the mind'. And when it comes to areas like this, it's dangerous. Ask a woman who has to make a career in the real sciences if it isn't.