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  Science & the Myth of Progress—the quantification of nature Back to the List of Slideshows
Wolfgang Smith
    
slide 11 of 16

Wolfgang Smith tells us that it is not facts themselves which are of primary importance but the interpretation of those facts; and interpretation is determined by the philosophy of the interpreter. In this article he questions the philosophy behind scientistic interpretation:
Nothing strikes the contemporary mind as more certain and authoritative than the findings of physics, astronomy, chemistry, and, of late, molecular biology. These are the “hard” sciences of the present age, which, by empirical means, of a scope and accuracy that stagger the imagination, have put us in touch with fundamental realities that could not even have been conceived in bygone days. Moreover, this group of sciences has been in a sense “visibly validated,” for all to see, by the technological miracles which now surround us on all sides; how, then, can one doubt—much less deny—their findings? In truth, one cannot; quantum particles and fields, galaxies and quasars, molecules and the genetic code—all these are undeniable facts, which must henceforth be reckoned with.

We must remember, however, that facts and their interpretation are not the same thing. And since, subjectively, facts are invariably associated with an interpretation of some kind, it comes about that science as a rule presents us with two disparate factors: with positive findings, on the one hand, plus an underlying philosophy in terms of which the formulation and disclosure of these discoveries are framed. In its actuality science is never the kind of purely empirical enterprise it is generally reputed to be, which is to say that ontological as well as epistemological presuppositions do inevitably play an essential role. What is more, these various philosophical articles of belief are rarely if ever examined or subjected to critical scrutiny by the scientific community. They are the foundational ideas one absorbs, as if by osmosis, in the course of one’s scientific education; they pertain, one might almost say, to the scientific unconscious. And when it happens that one or the other of these ingrained philosophical dogmas does emerge into the light of day as a subject of discourse, the typical response on the part of scientists is to point immediately, by way of validation, to the success of the scientific enterprise: “It works!” one is told in effect. And yet in reality no philosophical belief has ever been validated by an empirical finding; the fact is that verification as well as falsification through empirical means apply to scientific as opposed to philosophical propositions.
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