Monday, 5 February 2007

Has science turned yellow?

There can be many reasons why something is misunderstood. Sometimes psychoanalysts have a field day.

The editor of a journal - both shall remain nameless - saw fit to reject a recent article about the worm program. The reason? As a "functionalist" I omitted important references to the field of functionalism, thereby evading the ongoing debate about the latter's tenets.

Why am I a "functionalist"? Throughout the article I had used the words 'functional' and its noun to describe a principle form of behaviour, compared to the behaviour's content (for instance, 'love' can be viewed as a functionality; one's love for a car is the instantiated content).

Nothing more, nothing less. Although explained in those terms, to that reader this was neither here nor there. Now it is true functionalism features large in the debates surrounding cognitive science and artificial intelligence. But it is a movement, if you will, which ultimately did not produce a viable model of how the mind works. Despite the often intricate hypotheses the resultant perspectives were insufficient to address the phenomenon of mind in a realistic, useful manner. Hence no reason to waste my time on it.

Why then jump to such a conclusion?

Well, it might have been a simple matter of a certain word capturing one's imagination in a rather indiscriminate fashion. But there could be more behind this.

How their mind works is a question that has occupied humans for ages. So you'd think somebody coming along and declaring "I know!" would be greeted with enthusiasm. Not necessarily.

Anyone claiming to have found the solution should then be able to address such matters as religion, culture, or ideology in a formal, objective manner. He or she should give a proper explanation why the Iraq war for example is such a disaster, or why Pacific island nations implode, or why it came to the street riots in France not so long ago.

Deep down this is understood of course, and so such a claim would consequently require the courage to engage with life out there, something an increasing number of academics are reluctant to do. What is left for public occasions such as debates on TV shows are the extremists, political players of any ilk, and interested lay people having to make do with random information. Conveners of such shows find it difficult to invite professionals who can provide some factual input as a balance.

It is much more comfortable to draw differential equations inside a cosy office, or to engage in sparkling word play at a lecture. Yet there is a world beyond those walls, and what one finds out there are hardened adventurers under many an exotic flag or no flag at all.

Lest you think I am exaggerating, just watch a politician's discomfort rise as soon as the topic turns to religion - an increasing likelihood these days.

Much better then to remain with the incestuous squabbles about this or that -ism and forget about reality. Edgar Allan Poe in his "The Masque of the Red Death" described it so well!

It is interesting to note that in the case of my work no-one has ever found an error in my observations, my deductions or conclusions, in my calculations or in my use of logic or in any line of my code. Instead, vacuous generalisations are used to hide from the world.

1 comment:

sonnyw said...

"Solution" is too high of a hurdle for any scientific exploration, but scientists do "address such matters as religion, culture, or ideology in a formal, objective manner." These scientists who understand how the human mind works are called evolutionary psychologists. They have compiled a wealth of empirical evidence explaining the evolutionary path resulting in religion and culture.

Human behavior, even such complex expressions as religion and culture, results from the evolutionary process.