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Science, meet Wall?

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John Horgan asks at Scientific American if science is hitting a wall:

Economists show increased research efforts are yielding decreasing returns

The economists are concerned primarily with what I would call applied science, the kind that fuels economic growth and increases wealth, health and living standards. Advances in medicine, transportation, agriculture, communication, manufacturing and so on. But their findings resonate with my claim in The End of Science that “pure” science—the effort simply to understand rather than manipulate nature–is bumping into limits. And in fact I was invited to The Session because an organizer had read my gloomy tract, which was recently republished. I had lots of reactions to The Session. Here are a few:

In the realm of pure science, many physicists remain stubbornly committed to strings and multiverses, things too small and large ever to be observed. Theories of consciousness have also gotten wackier lately. Prominent experts are espousing panpsychism, which holds that consciousness might be a property of many kinds of matter, not just brains. As with strings and multiverses, panpsychism cannot be experimentally confirmed. More.

As so often, Horgan has put his finger on the problem. What cannot be experimentally confirmed is not really science. The multiverse and panpsychism are efforts to substitute naturalist philosophy for science.

The key question is, are there no new discoveries to be made or is naturalism preventing them?

See also: Postpone the climate apocalypse, will you, till we finish trimming the shrubs? (John Horgan)

Nature tries to referee Horgan vs. the Skeptics

Scientific American: Science writer John Horgan still doubts cosmic inflation …

and

The multiverse is science’s assisted suicide

14 Replies to “Science, meet Wall?

  1. 1
    Bob O'H says:

    Oh good. Perhaps we should top putting money into physics, and put it into biology instead. 🙂

  2. 2
    tribune7 says:

    Perhaps we should top putting money into physics,

    You shouldn’t put money into anything unless there is a clear objective else it becomes a scam.

    If someone is lobbying the government for money even claiming a clear objective it is likely a scam.

    Where government spending works is when public officials come up with an objective idea and then seek experts in science to implement it.

    In most other cases, it turns out to be a scam. I mean, Idiocracy-is-a-documentary level scam

  3. 3
    Bob O'H says:

    Where government spending works is when public officials come up with an objective idea and then seek experts in science to implement it.

    Because government officials are the experts on everything, so nobody else can have a good idea.

    So either we end up with Big Government with no accountability (because only public officials are allowed to have the idea that they can be held accountable), or nothing gets done(*).

    (*) or to be precise, as Sir Humphrey Appleby pointed out, many things will get done, but nothing will get done for the first time.

  4. 4
    Allan Keith says:

    Science, whether pure or applied, is limited by the all mighty dollar. Applied science with a reasonably good chance at outcomes that benefit humanity will always be easier to fund, from both government and private sources. However, pure science often results in applied applications that were not originally envisioned. Nuclear science is an example. Government always has a balancing act to perform between funding for applied and funding for pure science. But any government that ignores pure science is just being short sighted.

  5. 5
    tribune7 says:

    Because government officials are the experts on everything, so nobody else can have a good idea.

    That’s sort of the point if you think about it or to spell it out because government officials are often not the experts — else why would they have to go outside? — they can be conned (or pressured) into spending money they were not thinking of spending.

    OTOH, if the official is following a government initiated plan created out of an obvious need with a measurable goal (the ENIAC, atom bomb, NASA), they will fund it appropriately and show due diligence as to finding the responsible experts and holding them accountable.

    Anyone, of course, can have a good idea but if the money for is guaranteed (and coerced), the good idea might be how to get money.

  6. 6
    ET says:

    Bob:

    Perhaps we should top putting money into physics, and put it into biology instead.

    As long as the anti-science evolutionism is kept out. 😛

  7. 7
    tribune7 says:

    Science, whether pure or applied, is limited by the all mighty dollar.

    Or pound or Euro or yuan.

    Yes and no. Obviously a certain amount of funds is needed to just pay for the electricity and donuts but too much might actually be worse than too little.

    Consider that Hubble and Goddard didn’t make their discoveries with public money.

    The only thing that limits science is the lack of imagination.

  8. 8
    Dick says:

    Science prospered for centuries because it was nourished by the assumptions of a Christian worldview – that the universe was intelligible because it was created by an intelligent Being and therefore might yield its secrets to reason, that it was not itself sacred and was therefore a fit object of study, and that being a gift of God it was worth studying.

    These assumptions and more were the metaphysical drivers of the work of those who sought to “think God’s thoughts after Him”, and even after Christianity was discarded the intellectual momentum it created carried scientific discovery well into the modern era.

    But that momentum seems to be dissipating. Naturalism lacks the metaphysical resources to sustain science, largely because it rules out apriori the possibility that the world is intelligently, intentionally designed.

    I’m certainly no expert, but I wonder whether the problem that concerns Horgan is not so much that science has hit a wall, but that scientists have made a metaphysical wrong turn into a cul-de-sac and need to get back onto the right track.

  9. 9
    Nonlin.org says:

    Materialism/Darwinism are pseudo sciences that hold back real science.
    Darwinism in particular is downright retard:
    http://nonlin.org/natural-selection/
    http://nonlin.org/evolution/
    “Big bang” and “out of Africa” are just fiction stories that sell to the uninformed.

  10. 10
    polistra says:

    There are plenty of new discoveries in the OBSERVATIONAL parts of science, or in other words the SCIENCE parts of science.

    Observers have started to look in unaccustomed places, free of theorigenic blindness, and are finding all sorts of new things in the brain and the gut and the atmosphere and the deep ocean.

    When you stop saying “Nothing could possibly live there!” or “No, it couldn’t work that way!” or “No, it couldn’t have been there all along!” … you quickly realize that lots of things are living there, and in fact it does work that way, and in fact it was there from the start.

  11. 11
    Bob O'H says:

    t7 @ 5 – I suspect we largely agree. I certainly think that there are times when the Government should lay down priorities for research (the opioid epidemic in the US strikes me as one current example). But other sorts of research are probably better decided on by scientists, who know the fields and the important problems. There does need to be a balance between the two, and there obviously needs to be some oversight of all research and what impact it has on science and society more generally.

  12. 12
    doubter says:

    Is science reaching a point of ruinously diminishing returns? More and more researchers, more and more funding, less and less productivity in new discoveries and understandings. Horgan thinks so, and presents a lot of evidence.

    We can rule out the notion that there are no new discoveries to be made. Scientists acknowledge the existence of very many major gaps and unsolved mysteries in the scientific understanding of nature.

    There seem to be four most likely explanatory choices: either it is (1) a matter of the inherent limitations of the human intellect combined with the ever-increasing difficulties of the problems, (2) the self-imposed blinders and shackles imposed by scientism – strict reductionist materialist naturalism, (3) the extreme reluctance of institutionalized Science to back over major mistakes (once the mistakes are made they stay for a long time regardless of evidence), and maybe (4) the metaphysical “powers that be” deliberately prohibit understanding of some things by humans (this would seem to mainly apply to things like theoretical physics and consciousness studies).

    Or the root of the problem could be some sort of a combination of these hypotheses.

  13. 13
    tribune7 says:

    Bob @11

    Good points.

  14. 14
    bb says:

    The only thing that limits science is the lack of imagination.”

    Dick answered this very well calling materialism a metaphysical cul de sac. The word I had was box. Delusional assumptions tend to result in dead ends, and a refusal to recognize the cause prevents remedy.

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