Emotions do matter

Non-Objective Reality (NOR), as its name suggests, is a critique of the objective view of the world.   However, it is not one of the increasing challenges to objectivity that reflexively dismisses whatever risks offending people’s feelings.   There is no attempt in NOR to for example, silence science, or to argue feelings inherently carry more weight – albeit, science is heavily criticized and feelings are given more credence than conventional objectivity generally allows.

Instead of trying to sideline or ignore objectivity, NOR in fact stresses the incredible impact made by mankind’s objective view of reality – so much so, that the relevance and benefits of that impact are questioned and considered instrumental in various uniquely human problems.

As regards science, NOR questions the conventional scientism that tacitly theorizes everything could eventually become known through sufficient scientific investigation.   Hence, the value and merits of placing all one’s faith in science are also questioned – as are the costs of not addressing the weaknesses of abstract thought upon which objectivity and science are founded.

So although NOR is not the shunning of objectivity and science in favor of viewpoints considered more compassionate or caring, it does at least share certain aspects with those viewpoints.   And even if NOR is coming from a different angle, it is nonetheless interesting that emotional anti-science stances are real-world reactions to the otherwise unchecked advancement of science as a supposed means of improving the human condition.

Even if within those stances the motivation for questioning or rejecting science is poorly justified, that does not negate that more people are somehow sensing science as failing to deliver – or even delivering unwanted outcomes via technology.   On a visceral level at least, the very fact some individuals manifest an aversion to science arguably helps establish their case, however unreasoned that case is.   Our dislike of bad smells is a protective instinct not based on rationality, but on an intuitive awareness predating any science.

Just beneath the veneer of our technological age, questions are increasingly being asked about the assumed wisdom of endlessly advancing science and technology into areas such as nuclear power and weapons, the many fields of biotechnology, our frenzied consumerism, robotics and artificial intelligence, as well as algorithmic internet-based mind control – not to mention the arguably pointless exploration of space and quantum mechanics.   These are hardly fields enjoying unanimous support – many being interpretable as a waste of resources, if not a positive danger.   Of course, not everyone is agreed on these matters.   But that is exactly the point; there is no unanimous buy-in to the values of science and technology as some would pretend.

Something NOR shares with other more impassioned critiques of science is a distrust of the scientific belief emotion should generally be removed when examining human affairs – including the practice of science itself.   Other than within relevant dedicated fields such as psychology, the role of emotion is an anathema to most scientifically trained minds, even if rather ironically, such minds denounce with a passion any part emotion be afforded in their science.   The full irony can be seen as being emotionally conditioned to emotionally reject the role of emotion.   Unsurprisingly, this position appears ridiculous if examined.

If a scientist knows his instruments to be affected by environmental conditions, he will typically try to understand the impact of those effects, minimize that impact, and then allow for any residual effect.   But this is not at all science’s strategy with human emotions in relation to the functioning scientist.   For example, if a scientist is accused of unthinkingly following scientific rigors because of educational indoctrination, of failing to question science’s complete reliance on abstract thought, and of pursuing his science primarily through desires for a comfortable lifestyle, he’ll likely react as emotionally as anyone else whose social standing is questioned.   But if such ideas briefly provide a fairly accurate albeit uncomplimentary portrayal of many scientists, such reactions only show how even dispassionate scientists cannot step outside human emotions.   Very arguably, emotions are in fact directly responsible for the furtherance of science – especially in terms of tempting people into careers and as recruiting unquestioning adherents of modern scientism.

The science of science – that is, the examining of how and why science enjoys such pride of place in modern culture – should therefore award emotion a rather central role, just as psychology should in its attempts to examine and understand human behavior on a more general front.   But amidst the busyness of doing science, scientific culture seems selectively deaf to any such suggestion – including the bigger idea that all human endeavors are in fact underpinned by emotion.   What do any of us do that does not have at least some subliminal emotion as its backdrop?   Is the sombre and pious man of god performing his religious ceremonies not driven to earn his income and hoping for a ticket to heaven?   Is the philosopher with his endless texts not lusting after some form of recognition for his ideas?

In a manner similar to the way science summarily dismisses the role of emotions, the once culturally unquestionable position that Earth was the center of the universe summarily dismissed ideas it did not like – even when confronted with contradictory evidence.   It seems only when a dominant position faces a serious challenge that the true grounds for holding that position are revealed.   Ironically, those grounds often turn out to be an emotional attachment to the social standing won by uncritically endorsing the status quo.   Reason, logic, impartiality and personal integrity are easily subjugated to worldly ends – precisely because emotions are never entirely absent.   Today’s world of science nonetheless continues to think and act as if it is the current center of the intellectual universe – even as more and more attacks on its core idea of dispassionate objectivity erode its standing.

However, given the role emotion plays is often very indirect as regards day-to-day science and other human activities, failure to see all this is no surprise.   We naturally bond emotionally with whatever secures our welfare, and many more careers exist in science and related fields than in exposing the flaws of human abstract thought or the objective view of reality.   At some level the mind only sees what suits it.

The final irony is nonetheless that it is precisely because emotions are such strong forces in human affairs that science and objectivity seek to dismiss them.   Social science for example, rather falls apart once its subject matter of humans is recognized as emotionally fickle and highly unpredictable.   Hence the academic search for credible laws that apparently validate science also seeks to negate real-world personal idiosyncrasies in the subliminal knowledge their recognition would only highlight science’s limitations.

But this sort of pro-science bias could not have become so endemic to academic thinking without being increasingly camouflaged as it developed.   The plausible mechanism for this lies in those of power always and inherently seeking to diminish individuality and promote regimented thinking – regardless of whether religion, nationalism, science or anything else is the vehicle.

Meanwhile the hard sciences should perhaps also lose some credibility, given their supposed best minds have sometimes prioritized income and peer-awarded prizes within a world generally prejudiced towards conventional thinking.   If minds were so dedicated to unfettered objective truth, surely such rewards would be unnecessary on the one hand, and shunned as possible corrupting forces on the other?

Science effectively needs to dismiss personal prerogatives in order to present its supposedly impartial deterministic view of the universe.   To the extent it might open itself to the elusive influence of subjective feelings, or the many arguments for some form of freewill, its view of that universe becomes dysfunctional and paradoxical.   In fact, objectivity and science in general are remarkably similar to religious faiths in this respect; those who promote such perspectives can be suspected of doing so for social power and status, whilst also diminishing the individual’s sense of independence and self-determination in the face of supposed divine or natural law.

Given the success of this stratagem, perhaps few working in the sciences realize how their apparent dedication to truth is rather incidental to their own deeper emotional drives – just as we are all motivated by nebulous forces that defeat even psychological science.   Science nonetheless continues to teach that emotions are some sort of problem – just as the Sun being the center of our solar system remained a problem for religions until the truth overwhelmed what had always been delusion.

Given we are all human, no one will ever remove the human from human knowledge.   One of science’s greatest achievements is arguably to prove this by so extensively failing to prove the contrary.

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