[Ctrl-P] Massimo Pigliucci: Science needs philosophy

Massimo Pigliucci - fotoToegegeven, ik heb niet alleen een zwak voor Massimo Pigliucci, maar ook een kleine foto van hem boven een altaartje, tussen enkele wierookstokjes. Zowel zijn podcast Rationally Speaking, die ik al eens aangehaald heb, als zijn blog kan ik best velen.

Deze tekst, de eerste in de nieuwe rubriek [Ctrl-P], verscheen op de website van de Britse organisatie New Humanist in juli 2012.

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Massimo Pigliucci: Science needs philosophy

A recent New York Times article has noted a new trend in secular writings, what the author, James Atlas, termed “Can’t-Help-Yourself books”. This trend includes writings by prominent scientists and secularists that are characterised by two fundamental – and equally misguided – ideas: an over-enthusiastic embrace of science, and the dismissal of much of human experience under the generic label of “illusion”.

The culprits are many and influential. Physicists Steven Weinberg, Stephen Hawking and Lawrence Krauss, along with biologist EO Wilson, dismiss philosophy (and much of the humanities) as a leftover from pre-scientific thought, to be replaced by the objective and empirical truth arrived at by modern science, especially fundamental physics. Never mind that, as Daniel Dennett aptly put it a while ago, there is no such thing as philosophy-free science, but only science whose philosophical baggage is taken on board unexamined.

And then there are the likes of Sam Harris, Jonathan Haidt, Alex Rosenberg and Jerry Coyne, who claim that science can provide answers to philosophical questions, and that moreover antiquated concepts like free will, consciousness and morality are just illusions, tricks played on us by our Pleistocene-evolved brains. We are not really in control of what we do and think, it’s all done automatically by an inner zombie whose actions were determined since the Big Bang. This despite the fact that serious neuroscientists like Michael Gazzaniga and Antonio Damasio are actually much more careful about what exactly their discipline brings to our understanding of the human mind.

I think this is a misguided and dangerous trend, which might backfire on the entire secular movement.

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