After Ian appeared on Laurie Taylor’s Thinking Allowed to talk about Science’s First Mistake, BBC Radio 4 received a number of comments from listeners – surprisingly the majority was supportive of our position. However, some of Laurie’s humanist contacts objected to our take on numbers, particularly Ian’s throwaway line “numbers are absurd”. Consequently, Laurie asked to interview Ian so he could write a column on these ideas for the New Humanist magazine. They met up on the afternoon of Friday, November 12, and spent a jolly hour bouncing the ideas around. You’ll have to read Laurie’s column to find out what was said. However, during that conversation it suddenly dawned on Ian that his skeptical attitude towards numbers did not emerge while writing the book. Ask any of the students who, for the past two decades, have attended his lectures on Information Systems Management as part of the LSE Masters programme in Analysis Design and Management Systems.
Oscar on the absurdity of numbers
The students on that course are very familiar with Ian’s cat Oscar. Oscar is special; he can talk. Continue reading
To listen to the BBC Radio 4 interview of Ian Angell on Science’s First Mistake, follow this link here and then use the slider of the player to move to 18.00/28.30.
The Grand Design, the latest book of Professors Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, has caused great offence in religious circles. Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders have lined up to say that Hawking is misguided in claiming that God was not needed in the Creation. Rather than attempting a rebuttal of the book’s denial of God’s existence, the clerics should instead be asking: “Does Physics exist?; Does Mathematics exist?” other than as self-referential delusions in the heads of scientists. Richard Feynman points to the paradox that Physics is based on mathematics, which is not a science, as the test of its validity is not experimental.
One much repeated quotation from The Grand Design is ‘[b]ecause there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist.” Here Hawking is implying that the universe is an ‘it’ that can be grasped using the notion of gravity, which by implication must be a precursor of the universe – there can be no evidence for anything extra-universal. Continue reading
corrected post: Please Follow the ‘Free Download’ from the Top Menu.
So what is Science’s First Mistake? If you are looking for the long answer you will have to read our book, which took us over six years and literally hundreds of revisions.
Our short (and hence superficial) answer is that the Science’s First Mistake is the assumption that our world operates according to causal laws – that causality is built into the fabric of that world, and that Science is the uncovering of those laws from empirical observations.
This book on the other hand claims that Science is a collection of delusions in pursuit of theory, an umbrella-term covering an incoherent and un-unifiable set of socially-constructed, self-referential linear abstractions for describing what is our non-linear world. Causality is just one of the many means whereby human cognition makes sense of the world – that sense is not in the world. It is constructed in the head of the observer. Science’s First Mistake is to forget that its abstractions do not deal with reality, rather its models and theories are ‘unnatural in nature’ and artificial, and indeed quite absurd when viewed from outside the tunnel-vision of science’s self-referential certainty. Scientific descriptions, enmeshed as they are in the structural coupling of cognition and observation, may deliver clarity of purpose along the tunnel’s axis, but leave the periphery littered in paradox and absurdity.
Science’s First Mistake claims that each cognitive species generates delusions that are used to describe patterns filtered from observations of its ‘world’. An individual then uses such patterns to make its way in the world. However, these patterns are based on the formation of distinctions among the cognitive/observed data, and thus necessarily involve paradoxes. In other words these delusions are intrinsically absurd. The ultimate conclusion of this analysis must be that intelligence is the ability to deny this absurdity in the drive for utility by suppressing the paradoxes that would inhibit any drive to action.
Hence, Science, arguably the highest form of human intellectual endeavour, is not a true description of our natural world, rather the ultra-sophisticated denial of the absurdities intrinsic in its self-referential system. This system has to be based on unnatural modes of describing the world, on the fabrication of the abstract that is made to correlate with the observed. But in such a mode of operation, intelligence simply fuels the unnaturalness of a spiraling self-reference. The cleverer you are, the more you are in denial!
And what does this analysis hold for so-called artificial intelligence (AI)? Quite simply, AI is itself absurd. AI involves an intrinsic acceptance of objective data obtained from its sensors – it assumes that data is as it is. Hence the only denial to be made is by the humans who initially categorized the data types. By not denying absurdity, artificial intelligence is thus unintelligent, and quite absurd.
We are both ex-scientists (a mathematician and physicist respectively), and it would be fair to say that quite independently both of us felt slightly uneasy when it came to the rigid methods of science, and their effects. Although we have each spent a large proportion of our lives carrying out experiments, dealing with numbers etc., we both had nagging doubts about the validity of what we were doing, but we couldn’t quite put our fingers on the problem.
We both felt uncomfortable with the orthodoxy of a science that is forever seeking after truth, but the alternative was too radical to contemplate. Both of us had individually reflected on our doubts, but as proper natural scientists we had been taught to suppress them. As part of our scientific upbringing, we had learned to believe that science allows us to explore the path to truth … that with science we could seek out reality.
The discomfort for both of us grew independently stronger over time and our doubts about the universal validity of the scientific method grew stronger as we began discussing the issues. And as our ideas started to take shape, they eventually became too strong to ignore. We resolved to write a book so that we could structure these ideas into some coherent form.
This book is ‘Science’s First Mistake’.